To Vanka, the village and city differ in terms of how people live. They also differ in terms of how much happiness each affords him.
In the story, we learn that Vanka has been apprenticed to Alyakhin, the shoemaker. Vanka is exceptionally distressed about his current situation. He proclaims that everyone "knocks" him about, and he is always "fearfully hungry." He is given food of poor quality and in small amounts. Furthermore, he must sleep in the "passage." When the baby of the house cries, Vanka must rock it back to sleep.
To Vanka, life in the city is decidedly unhappy. While there are plenty of shops, Vanka finds that he can afford none of the items on display. In the city, there are plenty of houses and horses. However, Vanka is sad that there are no sheep. During the holiday season, Vanka is not allowed to participate in Christmas celebrations in the city. Instead, he must stay home while his master and his family attend the midnight service.
To Vanka, Christmas in the village was full of joy. In his early years, his grandfather, Konstantin Makaritch, would take him into the forest to cut down a big tree for his master's family. Vanka has fond memories of the experience. He also remembers that he was treated well by the master's daughter, Olga Ignatyevna. During the holiday season, Olga would give Vanka treats. She also taught Vanka how to read and write, to count, and to dance a quadrille. When the mother of the house died, Vanka was transferred to work in the kitchen with his grandfather.
To Vanka, the city represents opportunity but little joy. On the other hand, the village bequeaths to Vanka a sense of belonging and contentment.