Who is Ded Moroz?

Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost to give him the English version of his name, is the Eastern European version of Santa. He lives in the north east of Russia in a town called Veliky Ustyog and he delivers the presents to the children in Russia and some parts of Poland. He travels by troika pulled by three strong horses.

He hasn’t always been the good guy though. He used to be a winter demon, and people had to leave him presents of food and drink in return for him not freezing their crops. At some point he became more benign and is now the bringer, rather than the receiver, of gifts.

Related posts: How do they celebrate Christmas in Russia?Who was St Nicholas?, Who was Good King Wenceslaus?, Who was Babushka?

Who was Babushka?

Before the revolution in Russia, all the children had heard of Babushka, who left them presents on Christmas Eve. These days not all Russians know the story as New Year is a more important celebration to Russians, but the story of Babushka is slowly making a comeback. It is very similar to the story of La Befana in Italy. The word Babushka means “Grandmother” in Russian, and this is her story:

Long ago in a small village in Russia, far from the nearest city, lived Babushka. She was very house-proud, and she worked all day long scrubbing and sweeping and cleaning to keep her house nice.

One evening there was a knock at her door, and when she opened it she found three kings. They told her that they were on a long journey and that they were looking for a place to stay for the night. They had been told that she had the nicest, cleanest house in the village.

Babushka invited them in and prepared a meal for them. As they ate they told her that they were following a star which would lead them to a special baby. They asked her to accompany them but she protested that she didn’t have time – after all she had a house to keep clean, and who would dust and sweep if she went off travelling?

The three kings tried hard to persuade her, but she continued to protest – she couldn’t possible, she was too busy she had too much to do – and she waved them off as they continued their journey.

Later, she looked around. Her house was clean, the floors were swept, everything was dusted…. Perhaps she had time to go and look for this special baby after all. Quickly she packed some food and small gifts to offer him, and left the house. But where was the star? She had left it too late and the star could no longer be seen. She set off, asking everyone she passed whether the three kings had come this way, but nobody was able to help her.

Legend says that she is still looking, and that each time she passes a house where small children live, she leaves small gifts for them in honour of the special baby she seeks.

Related posts: Who was St Nicholas?  Who was La Befana?    Who was Good King Wenceslaus?

How do they celebrate Christmas in Russia?

In Russia the Christmas holidays run from December 31st to 10th January, with Christmas Day being celebrated on 7th January. Why 7th January and not 25th December? Well, not all countries adopted the Gregorian calendar at the same time. 25th December according to the Julian calendar falls on 7th January according to the Gregorian one, so strictly speaking they are celebrating 25th December – it’s just that they go by a different calendar.

On Christmas Eve (6th January) many Russians fast until the first stars come out. They attend church services and afterwards have a meal called “Holy Supper” which consists of 12 dishes to represent the 12 apostles. Some of these dishes are fish, borsch, dried fruit and a porridge-like food called ‘kutya’ which is eaten from a shared dish to represent unity.

After the meal they will go back to church for another service known as the All Night Vigil.

ded morozChristmas in Russia is primarily a religious occasion. The decorated trees and present giving traditions are all for New Year’s Eve. This is because during the days of communism, religious celebrations were banned and so Christmas wasn’t celebrated at all. So that they didn’t miss out, the Russians moved all the party traditions to New Years Eve, and this date is now far more important to the Russians than Christmas day, and is the day when families get together to celebrate and exchange gifts. The children, who would have been visited by St Nicholas pre Soviet Union, now receive their presents from Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz) and his granddaughter The Snowmaiden (Snegurochka). Ded Moroz looks much like Father Christmas except that he wears blue, not red, and carries a magic staff. He gets around by sleigh just the same.

To wish someone a merry Christmas, you say “Schastlivogo Rozhdestva!”

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