During the era of Communist rule (1917-91), Grandfather Frost became RUSSIA’s official winter season GIFT bringer. Known in Russian as Dyed Moroz, Grandfather Frost symbolizes the piercing cold of Russia’s winters. Accompanied by his grandchild, the SNOW MAIDEN, he travels across Russia bringing gifts to children on New Year’s Eve.
Grandfather Frost existed long before the Communists came to power. In those days, however, he brought his gifts on Christmas Eve rather than on New Year’s Eve. Grandfather Frost probably evolved from rural folk beliefs about a spirit known as “the Frost.” Country folk did not have an image of what the Frost looked like, but they well knew his rigid and aloof personality. In the nineteenth century, rural people did not dress up like the Frost and did not believe that he brought Christmas gifts. Instead they left gifts of food for the Frost, hoping to satisfy his hunger so that his icy touch would not whither their crops.
By the nineteenth century, a very different image of the Frost had developed in the cities. There, the winter spirit acquired a kindly name, “Grandfather Frost,” as well as a kindly reputation. Urban folktales cast Grandfather Frost as a bringer of gifts to well-behaved children at Christmas time. Unlike some of his harsher counterparts in western Europe, Grandfather Frost ignored rather than threatened poorly behaved children (see also BLACK PETER; CERT; JULTOMTEN; ST. NICHOLAS’S DAY). City dwellers pictured Grandfather Frost as an old man with a long white beard who wore a red hat and long, red robe edged with white fur. Their tales told that he lived deep in the forest and rode about on his sleigh.
Before the Communists came to power, Russian children might receive gifts from Grandfather Frost at Christmas or from BABOUSHKA on Epiphany Eve. A Russian folktale tells how Baboushka rejected the MAGI’s invitation to accompany them on their journey to worship the newborn JESUS. She has wandered the world ever since, bringing gifts to children on Epiphany Eve. The religious content of Baboush-ka’s story made Communist leaders uneasy since they opposed religion and the celebration of religious holidays on principle. To counteract this story the government promoted the idea that Grandfather Frost alone brought children their presents. Moreover, they changed the date of his arrival from Christmas Eve, a religious holiday, to New Year’s Eve, a secular holiday. Grandfather Frost survived the transition to a democratic, capitalist form of government in the 1990s, but now he faces competition from a new, Western import: SANTA CLAUS.
Some say that Grandfather Frost makes his home in Veliki Ustyug, a town about 500 miles northeast of Moscow. Nevertheless, during the holiday season he makes many public appearances in other towns and cities. He usually wears a full white beard, dresses in a long red, white, or blue robe, and supports himself with a staff. In this eyecatching garb he may be glimpsed at department stores or at public events. For a fee, parents can hire Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden to come to their homes as a special treat for the children. More than a thousand Grandfather Frosts crisscross Moscow on New Year’s Eve, performing this service for children and parents.