Grandfather Frost is Russia’s fur-cloaked and red-robed Father Christmas equivalent. In Russia, the end-of-year festivities hinge on the New Year rather than Christmas, and so each year he puts gifts under the New Year’s tree for children. According to legend, he is the 2,000-year-old Slavic wizard of winter. He predates Christianity in Russia, and tales from this era say he is the son of the pagan god of earth and the underworld, Veles, and Mara, the ancient goddess of Spring. However, Slavic mythology claims he is a demon.
Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden, is Grandfather Frost’s helper and first appeared in 19th-century Russian folklore. Some fables claim that two peasants who desperately wanted a child made her out of snow, and she miraculously came to life. In another story, she was the goddaughter, or sometimes daughter or granddaughter, of Grandfather Frost. Less poetically, when the Soviet Union formed and banned religious celebrations, Grandfather Frost was still permitted to make his annual rounds. It was in these early Soviet days that the Snow Maiden came to be known as his helper.
Don’t mistake Grandfather Frost for a benign jolly fat Santa. Although the old man loves to give presents to well behaved and kind children who work hard and listen to their parents, he will swiftly punish naughty kids. In fact, the old man used to be a bit of a brute. Legend has it he used to kidnap little children and hold them for ransom. People would feed him bowls of sweet porridge so he wouldn’t freeze their plants. Nikolai Nekrasov, a 19th-century poet, once wrote a tale in which Grandfather Frost killed a widow and orphaned her children. So, no, Grandfather Frost isn’t always nice.
Despite religious suppression under the Communist regime, Old Man Frost was permitted as a celebratory symbol during Soviet times. Technically not a religious character, he drew the festive season’s focus away from Christmas and religion and towards the secular New Year. When the Union collapsed, several of the previously Christian post-Soviet states, such as Ukraine and Bulgaria, reclaimed their religious freedoms and chose to celebrate the season with more religious characters instead. The Islamic republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have either banned or encouraged their media to reduce Grandfather Frost’s presence, in an effort to preserve their religious heritage.
He lives in Veiky Ustyug, a sleepy little town in north-west Russia that revels in its most famous resident. Legend says that this is where Grandfather Frost starts his annual journey, and in 1999 it officially became his residence. The town boasts several museums in his honour, which showcase festive trinkets and costumes. There’s also a theme park, and people can visit the old man’s house all year round to meander down the Path of Fairy Tales, visit his magic school and even see a few reindeer roaming around.
Ded Moroz’s House, Votkin Ded Moroz 1, Mardengskoye, Russia, +8 817 385 21 32