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Who is Grandfather Frost (Дед Мороз)?


The origin of the Russian Grandfather Frost is fundamentally different from the European Santa Claus.


Santa Claus was a real historical figure, who was elevated to the rank of saints for good deeds. The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back only some hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). Santa Claus is a deeply Christian character, kind and gift giving as the concept of rewarding children for being good is a simplified version of going to heaven for being virtuous.


Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz) has been existing in pre-Christian mythology much longer. He is an ancient pagan spirit, whose image survived in Russia most likely because of relatively late adoption of Christianity and because of the fact that, unlike most European societies, Orthodoxy has not known the inquisition.


Grandfather Frost is usually presented as an old man with a grizzled beard, in a long thick coat, boots, hat, gloves and with his magic stick, with which he can freezeliving things. Therefore, the similarities between the traditional images of Grandfather Frost and Santa Claus suggest the Grandfather’s influence rather than vice versa…


Once upon a time, before the advent of Christianity, our ancestors believed that the spirits of the dead guard our families taking care of cattle offspring and good weather. Therefore, in order to reward those spirits for their concern, every winter people gave them gifts rather than were expecting gifts. On the festive eve, rural youth wore masks, wrenched coats and went from house to house carolling (‘kolyading’) that reminded more of "trick ot treat" ritual than Christian hymns singing since they asked for a gift. Different regions had their own way of carolling. The main gift to carolers was food.


Kolyada represented the spirits of ancestors. Among carolers, there was often a man wearing more frightening costume than everyone else. As a rule, he was bound from speaking. Kolyada was the oldest and most formidable spirit, it was often called simply Grandfather. This possibly was the prototype of the modern Grandfather Frost.


Today, he certainly appears kinder and does not come for presents. In contrary, Grandfather Frost brings presents (initially meant to be given for good behaviour). With the adoption of Christianity, the pagan rites were eliminated but, of course, they still exist today, particularly in Orthodox cultures. Now, kolyaders (carolers) represent heavenly messengers rather than ancestral spirits, which is hardly a big difference… It is difficult to say who is the Grandfather among the kolyaders but there is still supposed to be a "senior" most of the times.


According to another version, the ‘great-grandfather’ of modern Russian Grandfather Frost was a hero of Russian folk tales Morozko (or Jack Frost), the master of weather and winter frost. Initially, he was called Grandfather Crackler, a little old man with a long beard and stern like the Russian winter temper. From November to March, Grandfather Crackler was the absolute ruler of the earth. Even the sun was afraid of him! He was married to a very evil lady - Winter. Grandfather Crackler, or Grandfather Frost, was associated with the first month of the year - the middle of winter - January. Cold and icy, the first month of the year is ‘the king of frost’.


In Russian fairy tales, Grandfather Frost is depicted as an eccentric, strict but fair spirit of winter. For example, in the fairytale ‘Jack Frost’ (‘Morozko’), a good hardworking girl gets rewarded and a lazy and obstinate one is frozen to death. Therefore, in order to avoid trouble, some northern nations try to cajole the old Frost: they leave cakes, meat, poured the wine on their houses threshold lest the spirit does feels angry and interferes with their hunt or ruins their crops.


Grandfather Frost is a Russian pagan night spirit, the character of Russian legends and Slavic tales. He is the personification of Russian winter frosts; the blacksmith who coverers water with ice; the magician, who generously showers nature with sparkling silver snow giving the joy of winter festivities.  And, where appropriate, in the difficult years Grandfather Frost defends Russians from advancing enemies, who, like the armies of Napoleon and Hitler, were frozen into ice with the hitherto unprecedented winter cold, which breaks down the iron…


At first, under the influence of Christianity, the original image of the Snow Grandfather (as well as all other Slavic gods) was distorted, and the Frost began to represent an evil and cruel pagan deity, the Grand Old Man of the North, the master of the icy cold and snowstorms that freezes people. This has been reflected in Nikolay Nekrasov's poem "Frost - Red Nose", where the frost kills a poor young peasant widow in the frost leaving her young children orphaned. When the influence of Christianity in Russia weakened in the late XIX-early XX century, the image of Grandfather Frost began to soften. For the first time, he appeared on Christmas Day in 1910 but has not gained wide acceptance then.


In Soviet times, after the rejection of the ideas of Christianity, a new image of Grandfather Frost was distributed: he was coming to children on New Year and gave presents. This image was created by Soviet filmmakers in the 1930s. In December 1935 a Stalin’s colleague, a member of the Presidium of the USSR Central Executive Committee Paul Postyshev published an article in the newspaper "Pravda" suggesting to organise a children's New Year celebrations, which was first implemented in Kharkov (modern Ukraine). Some illiterate scholars accused Stalin of inconsistency because he did not destroy the Grandfather Frost, who, in their opinion was a "children’s god".


Professional day of Grandfathers Frosts is celebrated every last Sunday of August. Also, recently, the birthday of Russian Father Frost was announced November 18, as, according to many years of meteorological observations on that day most parts of Russia get firmly covered with snow. However, this is nothing more than the current commercial initiative, based on the Christian tradition of the Nativity. Of course, the great Slavic Gods would not have a "birthday", because they are eternal and have arisen in the minds and beliefs of people in the days of the early Paleolithic period at the beginning of the post-glacial period or, possibly, earlier.


It is difficult to say clearly, where Russian Grandfather Frost lives because there are a lot of legends. Some say that he comes from the North Pole, others say - from Lapland. One thing is clear, Grandfather Frost lives somewhere in the far north, where it snows all year-round. Although in the tale V. F. Odoevsky "Moroz Ivanovich", in spring, Frost Red Nose moves into the well, where it is cold even in summer.



The official residence of Grandfather Frost in Velikiy Ustyug, the region of Vologda, Russia

On the initiative of former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov in the Vologda region in 1999 a tourist business project ‘Velikiy Ustyug - Homeland of Father Frost’ was established. Tourist trains and specialised buses from Moscow, St. Petersburg and Vologda go to Great Ustyug (Vologda region).


During the first three years (1999 to 2002), the number of tourists visiting the city of Veliky Ustyug increased from 2 thousand to 32 thousand. According to the Governor of the Vologda region Vyacheslav Pozgalev, more than one million letters from children from different countries have been sent to Grandfather Frost since the beginning of the project, the goods turnover in the town has grown 15-fold and unemployment decreased significantly...



One more detail. The grand-daughter of the Frost, the beautiful Snow Maiden (Snegurochka), is a self-perpetuating companion of Grandfather Frost at the New Year celebrations in Russia, most likely, as the personification of the feminine deity balancing the image the Grandfather Frost.

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