January 01, 1998

Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden

An essential part of the Russian New Year season are Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) and Snegurochka (Snow Maiden). The Russian equivalent of Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas, Ded Moroz is a tall, bearded, white- haired fellow dressed in a fur-trimmed costume and warm winter boots. According to legend, he lives in an ice cave in the far North and travels in a troika, a sleigh pulled by three horses instead of reindeer.

Bringing gifts to all the children of Russia is such a big job that Ded Moroz has a helper, his granddaughter Snegurochka, a pretty, smiling young girl decked out in a long blue or white fur-trimmed coat and a fur hat, with her long blonde braid hanging down in back. She and Ded Moroz appear together at children’s parties held the last week of December, handing out sweets and small gifts. Some families also hire a Ded Moroz and Snegurochka to visit their apartment on New Year’s Eve, to deliver gifts in person to the children of the house.

Both Ded Moroz and Snegurochka are characters, in slightly different forms, in classic Russian folktales. But the pairing of them as characters associated with the New Year seems to date only from the end of the 19th century. However, their role as New Year’s gift-bringers has become firmly entrenched in contemporary Russian customs. Russians now purchase Ded Moroz and Snegurochka dolls–made of wood, metal, plastic, or papier-mache–to decorate the house during the winter holidays and to give as gifts to children. And no yolka would be complete without a small effigy of Ded Moroz and Snegurochka placed under it, nestled among the packages where these two bearers of gifts rightly belong.

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