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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