Russian Grandfather Frost!
By Natalia Shuvalova
Everybody knows him. He is easy to recognize by the red jacket and pants, by the white beard and huge moustache. Above it, by a huge sack of presents for Christmas or New Year, depending on the area.
Photo by Alevtina Kashitsina
Yes, we are speaking about Santa Claus.
Actually, he has many names. Almost every country has a special name for him. In Russia he is warmly greeted as Ded Moroz, which is literally translated as Gandfather Frost.
Almost everybody is familiar with the story of Saint Nicholas who became a prototype for the contemporary Santa, but hardly anyone knows how we, Russians, got our Near Year Magician. Most people believe that the tradition dates back thousands of years, back to pagan times… But it is a delusion.
Before tracing the history, it is worthy to point out that there are obvious differences between Santa Claus and Ded Moroz. First, ours never enters the house through the chimney. Second, he always puts presents directly under the New Year tree and never into socks. Third, he does not ride deer. As one of the contemporary kids thoughtfully said: “He must be hitchhiking when getting to big cities.” The official story claims that he walks through the forests and carries his huge sack of presents on his back!
There are also details, such as clothes and official residence. Another difference to be mentioned is that Ded Moroz has a granddaughter, Snegurochka (snow girl). Obviously, Saint Nicolas, being a monk, could not have any children. The curious thing is that Ded Moroz has none either – just a granddaughter. Quite confusing… Let’s start from the very beginning and let everything fall into its place.
Russians used to worship lots of spirits before Christianity substituted most of the pagan beliefs. Before the 10th century A.D. they did not celebrate Christmas, nor did they celebrate the New Year on the 1st of January. The major holiday was the winter solstice. There were many beliefs and rituals involved. One of them correlated to a very evil spirit called Moroz, the Frost - he would take away all the warmth and ruin the future crops. To avoid it, the eldest man in the family had to cry out of the window: “Moroz, come to have a kissel, do not eat our oats”. Then he cried out the name of each cereal that the family wanted to keep safe. The ritual was performed on a particular day, close to the 22nd December. This myth can hardly be the ancestor of a kind and friendly Ded Moroz, though.
Most probably, the image of Ded Moroz is connected to the old Russian traditions of worshiping forefathers. There was a belief that ancestors bring presents on the winter holidays.
After Russia was baptized in 988, the Christian faith could not sweep away all of the old beliefs. They were so deep in Russian minds that they remained along with Christian holidays or became intertwined with them.
In 1699 Peter the Great, the great follower of western traditions, changed the day to celebrate New Year’s Day. From now on it was the 1st January. Peter ordered to see the New Year in with lots of wishes and decent fun. That’s the first time when Dedushka Nikolay (Grandfather Nicholas) appeared . Most probably, it was a duplicate of Saint Nicholas. But within a short period of time the name underwent many changes.
In the 18th-19th centuries Russian writers were inspired to create many fairy tales based on the mythology of pagan times. The characters got some new traits and qualities. Among them were Ded Moroz and Snegurochka.
Snegurochka was the main character of Ostrovsky’s play, which also inspired Rimsky-Korsakov to write an opera with the same title and plot. She was a snow girl, who melted while jumping over the fire with her human girl friends. There was no connection between her and the old man Ded Moroz… until Soviet times!
Revolution brought new ideals, new holidays and celebrations. Christmas and the New Year were cancelled. Only in 1925, the Bolsheviks realized that they had been depriving their children of the joy of the New Year Holiday, its beautiful tree and presents, which they could only envy while being servants of the bourgeois. That was officially announced in “Pravda” and decorated fir trees appeared in every nursery, school, and Pioneers’ Palace (a sort of Youth Cultural Club).
But Dedushka Moroz still had to wait for his resurrection. The children of the proletariat were enjoying the red star on top of the tree and glass balls with Lenin’s portrait on them. If you were a kid then, opening your long awaited sweets you would find a note inside saying: “We thank Comrade Stalin for our happy childhood.”
It is only in the 1950s that Ded Moroz had a chance to come back, now accompanied by Snegurochka. After all of the war troubles and the following economic difficulties, the country badly needed. That is where the idea of the New Year Performance came into existance.
The best writers were requested to write New Year scenarios – and that is how Snegurochka became a Ded Morozz’s granddaughter. The duo was getting on so well that even today they hardly ever separate.
After perestroika, Dedushka Moroz got his official residence in Veliky Ustug, where he spends all summer time. In winter he receives guests in his Terem. Those who come are invited to participate in the New Year Tree decoration. Twelve brothers representing the months – write a new fairy tale each year in this very residence. It is not a closed event and every visitor is welcome to give suggestions. These are just few of many entertainments at the official residence.
Snegourochka helps her Grandfather only when he goes around the country, as she has to receive guests in her own residence in Kostroma. It is the place where Ostrovsky wrote the play.
Snegourochka’s residence is also fun to visit, with a lot of traditional games and dances.
There are many tour agencies that help with the tours. The length of the trip may vary as well as the place to stay and the selected program.
If you cannot go to see Ded Moroz, do not forget that he can come to see you…right at your place. There are many agencies that offer Ded Moroz services. One visit costs about fifty $50. The price includes both Ded Moroz and Snegurochka coming right to your house, to entertain and leave a present. Kids truly love it!
By the way, Ded Moroz’s standards are high. The agencies who offer these services say they hire only professionals: one has to graduate from a drama school, or at least demonstrate talent. Most importantly, they need to set a certifi cate of the Academy of Ded Morozs!
Do not think that it is just kids’ entertainment. These professionals also know how to bring NeW Year joy to the office. Besides, many of the working Ded Morozes say that when they come to make a fairy tale alive for a kid, it may take time before the child responds to their efforts… but old men respond straight away. Some take out the dusty garmoshka (Russian accordion), and sing funny rhymes, while the grannies forget about their high blood pressure, and start to swirl in the dances of their youth.
If you feel like saving those $50, then keep in mind - the modern world opens new and new opportunities to let Ded Moroz know about our wishes. There is an annual post box in Pushkinskaya Square, where you can send a letter to Veliky Ustug. That’s not all. This year, you are more than welcome to send Ded Moroz an SMS! Well, maybe next year, he will have a e-mail? Nonetheless, never forget that the success will always depend on your level of your belief!