- Holidays and Celebrations»
Ded Moroz and Snegurochka: Russian Father Frost and Snow Maiden
Happy New Year
In Russia Julian calender is in use so the Russian New Year takes place on January 7th. There are two characters who are essentially part of Russian New Year celebration. Those are Ded Moroz aka Grandfather Frost and his merry grand-daughter Snegurochka the snow maiden. Each New Year they arrive with troika, sleigh that is pulled by three horses and they give gifts for children and everyone with gentle and kind soul. Ded Moroz is told to be 2000 years old. His birthday is on November 18th and it is believed that he lives in the city of Veliky Ustjuk in northern Russia. In Belarus Ded Moroz lives in the forest of Puszcza Białowieska, Belarussian national park. Ded Moroz is a tall old man with white curly beard. He usually wears a fur coat that is blue, red, silver or golden and he wears a fur hat with the same color. He has a magical staff which he uses to create snow, frost and ice. Symbol of Ded Moroz is the snow flake.
Early origins of Ded Moroz are in paganism and in Slavic folklore. Character that inspired Ded Moroz was Slavic winter wizard and a blacksmith called Morozko. According to the legend Morozko was a powerful magician. Son of the witch goddess Mara who was the ruler of seasons and Veles, god of death. Morozko was believed to be the winter blacksmith who could chain the water with his "iron" (frost). With this myth people of the past explained the seasonal changes and water turning into frost and icicles. Like many nature spirits around the world it was believed that Morozko was kind to those who were respectful towards him and to the spirits of the land. If humans were lazy and evil then Morozko might punish them. He would make them freeze and according to some myths he could even kidnap children making them his slaves. Morozko could also a be a friend and favor those he believed to be kind and gentle souls. In the pagan times people made sacrifices for Morozko asking him not to freeze all plants and gardens. Some of the food sacrifices were oatmeal kissel and kutya, porridge made of honey and raisins.
Ded Moroz and St. Nicholas
Russia became an Orthodoxian country in 900s. Many of the folklore characters got influences from saints and other spiritual leaders. Same way as in western countries stories about St.Nicholas, Turkish protector saint of children, poor and sailors became another inspiration for the character of Ded Moroz. One of the reasons being that St. Nicholas is the official protector saint of the Russian federation. By the end of the 19th century character of Ded Moroz had become kinder and sweeter version of Morozko the winter wizard and a very popular character that was essential part of Christmas celebrations in countless Slavic countries. After the revolution in 1917 and the start of the communist era in the Soviet Union all religious celebrations were banned Christmas included. Character of Ded Moroz was so beloved by people that he started to visit in the New Year bringing gifts. Transformation was not too difficult because in Julian calendar Orthodox Christmas takes place in January 7th same time as the year changes. Modern Day Ded Moroz has also got influences from the western Santa Claus / Father Christmas and according to some sources these two are distantly related to each others.
Snegurochka the snow maiden
Snegurochka appeared in Russian folk tales and fairy tales first time the 19th century. She is often told to be daughter of Ded Moroz and each new year they bring gifts for children and good-hearten.
Visual Snegurochka first appeared in Christmas tree decorations that were hanged into fir trees. She is told to be a young girl or a teenager with long blonde hair that is curly or in two braids. She has shiny blue eyes and pale skin. Snegurochka wears a white or blue dress, jacket and a Russian cap with fur edges. Sometimes she is also described to wear a crown that is made of shining beads, pearls and icicles. In most stories Snegurochka is told to be the grand-daughter of Ded Moroz but there are also variations of the story which tell that she is actually daughter of Ded Moroz and her mother is the Snow Queen.
Child made of snow
In popular Russian folk tale there was an elderly couple who were not able to have children. They lived in small log cabin far away from other people and they were quite lonely. One day when it was snowing and couple was gathering wood outside they remembered fun days of their youth building snowmen and they started to shape a snow girl. They gave her blue beads as her eyes, a red ribbon became girl´s mouth and they even gave her tiny dimples. Couple looked at their creation feeling sad melancholy. Dusk began to fall and man and the woman cast a last longing glance to the snow girl. Winter wizard Ded Moroz was watching them and he saw years of hard work and hopes that were not fulfilled. He took pity of them, rose his wand and the snow girl came alive. Girl approached the couple saying "If it pleases you, I have come to be your daughter and will care for you as my mother and father". They could have not be more surprised or more happy.
Arrival of spring
Couple knew that the child was not part of this world and there would be a day when she would have to leave them. Snegurochka was loved by everyone. She was kind for humans and animals alike. She loved the forest and beautiful wintry world where she spent as much time as possible. She became meloncholic and sad and to cheer her up her parents took her into the town to see all winter festivities. There she met a young handsome man who was playing the flute and they immediately fell in love with each others. One day in the woods Ded Moroz appeared in front of Snegurochka and warned her to be careful in her relationship when the spring would arrive. Snegurochka did not want to listen. Young man had agreed to meet Snegurochka in the woods. On an early spring day they met. She heard him playing his beautiful music and she was about to run into his arms but when her feet touched the bare ground that was coming out underneath the snow Snegurochka disappeared. Young man was heart broken and girl´s parents devastated although they knew that this day would come. Ded Moroz had witnessed the scene and he had managed to catch the icy wind that rose when she had disappeared. He brought her spirit to the frozen lands of the north and gave back her human form. Ever since then she has been his companion. Summers they spend in far north where snow never melts. In winter they travel all across the Slavic lands giving gifts those who are kind and gentle like the elderly couple who wished to have a child of their own.