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Ded Moroz

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Updated: 25.12.2003

Aka Grandfather Frost, Russian Christmas and New Year time gift-giver.

A steeplejack dressed as Ded Moroz scaling the wall of an apartment building in Moscow. Steeplejacks are paid during the New Year holiday season to enter apartment windows and surprise children with presents.

The original Gift-Giver of Russia was St. Nicholas. The legend is supposed to have begun when the 11th Century Prince Vladimir returned from Constantinople (where he was baptised) with reports of the miracles performed by St. Nicholas of Myra - part of present day Turkey. St. Nicholas went on to become the Patron Saint of Russia with his Feast Day celebrated on December 6th.

"Yuletide" in Russia took place January 7th to Epiphony January 19th as the official calendar recognised by the Russian Orthodox Church was the "Julian" calendar which sets these dates two weeks later than the western calendar.

After the Reformation of the 17th century, many Protestants no longer accepted St. Nicholas as their Gift-Giver due to his ties with the Catholic Church. Therefore, the more "secular" Gift-Givers started to appear through out Europe.

Late in the 19th century, Ded Moroz (pronounced as "Dead Morose" and meaning Grandfather Frost) started to appear throughout Russia as the answer to the newer Gift-Givers of Europe. He usually appeared as a tall man with long white beard. He often wore long flowing robes in colours including blue and white. He was said to have lived in the Russian woods and travelled about in a Russian "troika". A troika is a sleight that is drawn by three horses abreast. Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden, (a character from a famous Russian fairy tale) assisted him in his delivery of presents to the Russian children. Later in the 20th century, she became known as his grand-daughter.

In October of 1917, however, great changes took place in Russia with the Bolshevik Revolution. Vladimir Lenin came to power in the Communist Party and instituted an atheistic society, outlawing Christianity. New Years's Day became the traditional winter holiday in which families gathered around their New Year's Tree and exchanged presents. Ded Moroz was banished to exile.

But in 1948, Stalin, the "best friend of all children" restored New Years as a national holiday and Ded Moroz was reinvented by the Communist government and could be contracted through Zarya, the state monopoly for domestic services which controlled odd-job men and baby-sitters.

Ded Moroz and Snegurochka now make appearances at children's parties during the holiday season distributing presents and forever fighting off the evil witch, Baby Yaga, who tries to steal the gifts.

Today, children and their families can board trains and travel to the picturesque village of Veliky Ustyug in the Vologda Region in northern Russia about 500 miles north-east of Moscow. Situated in the dense taiga forest at the confluence of three rivers sits the little log cabin of Ded Moroz.

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