While Santa is a very familiar face with his bright red suit, curly white beard and reindeer-driven sleigh, Ded Moroz and Snegurochka are a unique Slavic holiday pair. They are holiday characters of the holiday season in many of the countries of the old Soviet Union like Ukraine, the Russian Federation and Belarus.
Ded Moroz, also known as Father Frost or Grandfather Frost, has become a well-known symbol of Russian Christmas and the New Year holiday. Although his traditional appearance resembles that of Santa, Grandfather Frost has some distinguishing features that set him apart. He is a tall, thin man with a long white beard. He has a long fur-lined coat, typically blue and silver in color, and a semi-round fur hat.
Ded Moroz does a lot of walking through the cold dark forest where he lives, and keeps his feet nice and warm with a pair of traditional Russian valenki felt boots. Another unique feature is his tall, magical staff that has the power to freeze everything around him.
When it comes to making his long, snowy journey to visit all of the children on New Year’s, Grandfather Frost relies on his traditional Russian troika, a large sleigh drawn by a team of three strong horses.
When you see Ded Moroz, you do not need to look far to see his granddaughter and faithful helper, Snegurochka. Also known as the Snow Maiden, Snegurochka always accompanies her grandfather on his horse-drawn sleigh to visit children and bring them holiday gifts. She is a young girl with a long blonde braid and always has a smile on her face; she is as beautiful as she is kind. She typically wears a lovely long blue and silver coat and either a fur-lined hat or beautiful snowflake crown for her head.
Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden live deep in the Russian winter forest. Those who wish to visit them at their home have the opportunity to do so via train. Visitors can travel to the beautiful village of Veliky Ustyug in the Vologodskaya Region of Northern Russia (approximately 500 miles northeast of Moscow) where the little log cabin of Ded Moroz sits in the dense snowy forest at the meeting point of three rivers.
Although Ded Moroz and Snegurochka are now essential parts of the Russian New Year celebration, there was a time when the holiday pair was banished into exile. At the end of the 19th century, Ded Moroz had become the symbol of New Year gift-giving and one of the most popular Russian characters. In 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution instituted an atheistic society that outlawed any manifestations of religiousness including Christmas and all of its traditions and characters such as Ded Moroz.
Years later, New Year’s Day replaced Christmas and became the traditional winter holiday in Russia. Christmas trees became New Year trees and families would gather together on the New Year holiday to exchange gifts and celebrate. By the mid-1930’s, Ded Moroz had also returned as a holiday staple but this time he was not alone; Snegurochka began attending the New Year parties with her grandfather and has been participating in the celebrations ever since.
Today, Ded Moroz and Snegurochka continue to make appearances at holiday parties all throughout the country. A popular tradition for children at parties is to dress up in costumes and memorize a song or small poem that they will then recite to Ded Moroz in exchange for a small gift. Both adults and children look forward to the holiday cheer and gifts that Ded Moroz and Snegurochka bring everywhere they go.
However in the time since the Soviet Union broke up Santa has become a lot more popular with children in Moscow. At holiday parties when both Grandfather Frost and Santa are both available, the line for Grandfather Frost is usually empty. Santa’s line is always quite long.
If Ded Moroz comes to your home for the Slavic winter holidays, what does he bring?
Ded Moroz is just like Santa Claus is for European and American children. Slavic children write letters to him and then on Christmas he brings the children gifts.