Snow Maiden - Russian Christmas Character
A Girl Made of Snow
Those who are familiar with Russian Christmas and New Year traditions know that the main characters are Father Frost and his granddaughter, Snow Maiden. And though Father Frost has a cultural analogy in Europe and America, Snow Maiden is a completely authentic figure.
An ice girl made from snow by Father Frost and his wife Lady Winter, popularized by Russian writers and pedagogues, the character has quite a long history originating in ancient pagan rituals.
Snow Maiden's First Appearence
Both Father Frost and Snow Maiden became main figures at children's Christmas performances at the end of the nineteenth century. Russia was still the Russian Empire at that time, and the religion was officially Christian. Christmas was an official and religious holiday alongside with New Year. In the Soviet Union the tradition was preserved, but the religion was abandoned and the date of the celebration changed: instead of January 7th, date of Orthodox Christmas, it hit January 1st, the New Year's Day.
A little earlier, in the middle of the nineteenth century, Russian dramatist Alexander Ostrovsky wrote a play of the same name. The work stood out among all his writings. The author as it seemed wanted to create not a social drama, as usually, but a kind of utopia. In this fairy tale, as he called it, you can not find any beggars walking along the roads or drama queens, sensitive and loving - always the wrong person. You do not encounter dominating old ladies or dishonest and mean rich people taking advantage of the poor and the kind-hearted. What you see is the kingdom of Berendey, a wise and just tsar. His people are happy, socially equal, hard-working. They are good craftsmen and free to love anybody.
According to the plot Snow Maiden miraculously appears from the forest to become the daughter-in-law for an elderly couple. She was created by Father Frost (also known as Morozko) to comfort the last years of the old lady and her husband. The girl is integrated in the family life and community but for one problem.
Guys fall in love with her while she doesn't feel attracted to anyone. Blamed for her cold-heartedness, Snow Maiden cannot help it. It's her nature to stay cold, and when she finally falls in love, she melts during youth games while jumping over a fire. Ostrovsky made us believe in a love story, but the meaning of it all goes deeper.
The writer took his inspiration from old pagan slavic rituals. Snow Maiden is nothing but a seasonal spirit that appears in winter and disappears in spring. The ritual has been preserved in another slavic tradition - the burning of a female dummy nearing the time of spring equinox.
The celebration is better known as a pancake holiday - Maslenitsa - meaning "butter holiday", probably because the pancakes are buttered. But it's not only kvass and pancakes. At the end of the festivity they burn Maslenitsa herself, the seasonal spirit and a female character who first falls ill, then dies, then comes to life again.
If you take a closer look at what happens on Maslenitsa, you will find an analogy between Russian Snow Maiden and Maslenitsa. In fact, it's the same character but renamed thanks to Alexander Ostrovsky, the Russian dramatist.
But the analogies do not stop there. The pagan ritual is the story of the resurrection of the soul. And that is already Christianity. Only in Christian stories it is the male figure - Jesus Christ - who is resurrected.
Snow Maiden and Maslenitsa have another name still - Kostroma. That's how they called the dummy a long, long time ago. There is a picturesque Russian city with the same name situated on the banks of the Volga river. Probably, the city got its name from the faggot dressed in woman's clothes and the main character of the pagan ritual. It is in this land - in Kostroma region - that Alexander Ostrovsky wrote his Snow Maiden, Snegurochka. What inspired him most: the authentic nature of the region, frosty winters, spring thunderstorms and cool but fruitful summers or ancient pagan legends about the revival of the human soul so close to the Christian Resurrection? Who knows.
But Snow Maiden stays till today - alongside with Father Frost - the main character of New Year's festivities in Russia.
© 2015 Anna Sidorova