Ded Moroz (Дед Моро́з) is the name of the Russian Santa Claus and it literally means “Grandfather Frost”. Like Santa Claus, Russian Ded Moroz is the main mythical character at the New Year’s celebration.
Unlike Santa Claus, Ded Moroz wears a long coat all the way to the toes, sometimes red, sometimes blue, and sometimes white. Also, unlike Santa Claus, he almost never comes alone. His granddaughter, Snegurochka (from the word снег – snow), is his constant companion. Sometimes a little boy symbolizing the New Year accompanies them, but usually it is just the two of them.
The image of Ded Moroz, as Russian children know it today, was formed mostly in the Soviet era. In the 1920s, the celebration of religious holidays in Russia was banned by the Soviet government and Christmas became a working day. Ded Moroz fell into disgrace as a “product of the anti-human activities of the capitalists”. However, in the middle 1930s, his status was restored, but since then he comes not on the religious holiday of Christmas, but on the secular celebration of the New Year.
Historians cannot agree on the origins of Ded Moroz and how it came to Russia. It is believed that its prototype is a Slavic deity – the ruler of winter, cold and frost.
The attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church to Ded Moroz is also ambiguous. On the one hand, he seems to be the personification of pagan traditions. And on the other hand, he has become so firmly accustomed to the mentality of the Russian people during the years when religion was under prohibition, that fighting his popularity proved meaningless.
According to various legends, Ded Moroz lives somewhere in the north, where it is always cold. Some sources mention Lapland as his possible homeland. The absence of a clear legend allowed the creation of several independent projects claiming to be the homeland of Ded Moroz. First in Arkhangelsk, in the late 1980s. Then in the Lapland reserve, in 1995. And in 1999, a project named “Veliky Ustyug – Father Frost’s homeland” was organized in the Vologda region.
Today, trains and buses are carrying tourists there from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vologda and other Russian cities. It is said, that during the first three years of the project’s existence, the number of tourists there increased from 2 to 32 thousand. Thanks to the project, trade in the city increased 15 times and unemployment decreased. And during all this time, Ded Moroz received more than a million letters from children not only from Russia, but also from other countries.
The day when hard frosts usually start in in Veliky Ustyug (November 18) has been chosen as the official birthday of Grandfather Frost.
There are also other projects related to Ded Moroz in Russia.
The situation with several all-Russian Grandfathers Frost, including Lapland and Veliky Ustyug, was resolved simply: since Ded Moroz is a magician, he can be both in Lapland and in Veliky Ustyug at the same time. If in the children’s letters to Ded Moroz the “Lapland nature reserve” is not specified, then the letters are delivered to Veliky Ustyug.