Monday, December 31, 2007

The Story of Ded Moroz, Grandfather Frost, the Russian Santa Claus

In Russia, Armenia, and other Eastern European countries, the holiday season heralds the arrival of Dedushka Moroz, “Grandfather Frost”, their version of Santa Claus. He looks a lot like the St. Nick that we know in the West, but he’s kind of different, too. He’s a bit thinner, and sometimes he wears blue coats, not just red ones. It is said that Joseph Stalin once ordered that Ded Moroz should always wear blue so as not to be confused with Santa Claus! Ded Moroz's home is deep in the forests “beyond Findlandia and Lapland”, and he rides in a troika sleigh pulled by three horses, not reindeer. The official residence of Ded Moroz in Russia is the town of Veliky Ustyug. The old fellow can get downright grumpy sometimes when children behave badly, but he brings presents to kids even if they’re good only right before New Year’s. That’s right, New Year's. In the East, they put up the yolka, the decorated evergreen tree for New Year’s since the more-quietly celebrated Orthodox Christmas falls on January 7, not December 25. But yolka trees often have a big red star on top, just like the ones on top of the Kremlin!

Another big difference between Ded Moroz and Santa Claus is that Grandfather Frost is a single guy. There’s no dowdy Mrs. Claus waiting for him back at the toy shop. Ded Moroz is often accompanied by Snegoruchka, the beautiful Snowmaiden who was made from snow by a lonely old Russian couple to live as their daughter. Sadly, she melts away every spring but returns each winter much to everyone’s delight. Legend has it that Snegoruchka is Ded Moroz’s granddaughter, but many people, me included, have doubts. She often wears some short-short white fur-lined dresses, and there may be some hanky-panky going on between her and old Ded Moroz. But then again, it gets pretty cold at night in Siberia!

S'Novim Godim, Happy New Year, to you all!

Viktor Kuprin

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All

S'Rozhdestvom i S'Novim Godim! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all, and especially to all the kind readers who sent words of encouragement to me in 2007.

Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) brought lots of goodies to my house, and I hope he drove his troika to your home, too. It's the time of year, too, when the Ghost of Christmas Past inspires me to recall friends and loved ones far away or who are no longer with us. During the long winter evenings, when the Christmas tree lights fill the room with color and beauty, I remember them ... my loving grandparents and great-grandparents, my father, my youngest sister who left us when she was barely 20, and all the others whom I wish I could see again, hear their voices in laughter, and once more receive their warm hugs and pats on the head. And I watch my young son, his eyes filled with wonder and happiness as he experiences what will be his own Christmas memories. Despite all the corporate greed and politically-correct nonsense that arises during this time of year, I'm thankful that if you look and listen carefully, there is indeed still some magic to be found under the yolka, the Christmas tree.

Viktor Kuprin

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Outer Space Theater on Ray Gun Radio

You can hear my flash-fiction story Outer Space Theater on the December podcast of Ray Gun Radio, along with an interview of yours truly. The wonderful adaption of my short story was created by Don Abbott Studios, and playing the lead role is none other than "Commander Don" himself, Don Abbott, who hosted the Buck Rogers TV broadcasts that I watched as a boy. I was totally surprised when I received the radio-show style production, so Christmas came early for me. Thank you, Commander Don, for the wonderful present, and I hope you all enjoy hearing it.

Ray Gun Radio Episode 18 - Outer Space Theater Podcast

The holiday season is a long one at my house. For my wife, who lived in Moscow for many years, the big holiday is not December 25. New Year is the time when people in the Soviet Union celebrated the most. That's when they put up the yulka, the holiday tree, though more often than not it probably had a big red star on top instead of an angel.

Our Christmas and New Year wish this year is for the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, Armenia, to grant a tourist visa to my lovely sister-in-law, so that she can visit us in America during the New Year holiday. It's tough to get such a visit approved, but we're hoping and praying that it will happen. And I hope everyone reading this has their holiday wishes come true, too.

Merry Christmas, and S'Novim Godim (Happy New Year!) to all!

Viktor Kuprin

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A Fruitcake Eater's Humiliation

When my five-year-old son, Ronnie, asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I replied, "Oh, just get me a nice fruitcake." Little did I know that my words would be well remembered. Yes, I am a fruitcake eater. Partly due to the influence of my grandparents and great-grandparents, there was always a fruitcake at our holiday table. The candied-fruit concoction harkens back to times long before refrigeration, when fruit of any kind was a rare treat during the long winter months in northern Europe and the United States. I carry on that tradition in my own home, and always have a fruitcake as part of our holiday week menu, though I am usually the only person who partakes of the quince, citron, cherry, pineapple, raisin, and walnut treat. Good fruitcakes are expensive, and it's the cheaply made low-cost fruitcakes sold in American supermarkets that have given the age-old confection such a bad name. But, woe unto me, even Father Christmas had a disparaging word about fruitcakes this year, partly due to the Christmas wish that I told to my son.

Yesterday I took my boy to the beautifully-decorated Fountain Square Mall in downtown Bloomington, Indiana. Every year it is filled with lovely Christmas lights, winter decorations, and, of course, Santa's throne, where kids can sit on the big guy's lap and tell him their Christmas wishes. Ronnie mailed his letter-to-Santa and we made our way to the base of the waterfall fountain for which the gift mall is named. That's where Santa has set up shop this year.

As Ronnie recited his every-growing list of hoped-for toys and games, he paused and said, "This is funny, but my dad wants a fruitcake for Christmas! Ha-ha-ha!" Santa started guffawing, too, and replied, "I think I have one in the bottom of my bag, left over from last year. I can bring it for your dad!" Then the two of them laughed and laughed. It was the jolliest Santa moment I had seen in a long time. And despite the annual humiliation that we fruitcake eaters must endure, I'm still looking forward to my holiday fruitcake treat. Even if it may be a year old.

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