Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Holiday Gift-Givers

'Twas the night before New Year's, when all through the flat
Not a creature was sleeping, not even a cat;
No stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
'Cause they knew Ded Moroz soon would be there;

In other words, holiday traditions in Russia are different than those in North America. For starters, the major holidays are New Year's Eve and New Year's Day--not Christmas. Their trees are New Year's trees and that's when gifts are exchanged. I like this idea because it's a very inclusive holiday; anyone can celebrate the New Year regardless of one's religious persuasion. Theoretically, this is also a good thing because Christmas is presumably less commercial and material. I do, however, get the vibe that New Year's gift-giving isn't done to the extent that it's done in North America anyway. And by the way, Christmas is on January 7 because the Russian Orthodox Church follows the Julian Calendar.

This fellow looks eerily reminiscent of a certain Western gift-giver, doesn't he? Meet Дед Мороз, which is transliterated as Ded Moroz, nearly pronounced as Dead Morose, and translated as Father Frost, or more literally, as Old Man Frost.

He has a good deal in common with Santa Claus; however, there are some marked differences. Ded Moroz is usually clad in a a semi-round fur Boyar hat; either a blue, red, or white embroidered heel-length robe; mittens; and valenki, which are traditional Russian felt boots. He has a tall, slender figure and a long, straight beard. He also carries a magical staff that can be used to freeze people.

Ded Moroz lives in Veliky Ustyug, so that's where Russian children send their letters instead of the North Pole. He travels overland in a тройка, or troika, a traditional Russian sleigh pulled by three horses. Unlike Santa, who comes down the chimney to clandestinely stuff stockings and place presents under the tree, Ded Moroz goes door-to-door and delivers his gifts in person. He is often accompanied by his granddaughter Снегу́рочка, or Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden.

Although Ded Moroz is a popular Russian character, I wonder if over time he will be transformed into and ultimately replaced by Santa Claus.