Ded Moroz: the Other Santa Claus
Morozko by Ivan Bilibin (1931)
An urban legend has it that Santa Claus was invented by the Coca-Cola company for an advertisement campaign, but unfortunately for Christmastime conspiracy theorists, European folklore is replete with such gift-givers. Santa Claus is the result of Christian traditions intermingling with European folklore, Saint Nicholas crossed with Father Christmas, but there are other such legendary figures. In parts of Eastern Europe and Russia, the white-bearded Ded Moroz (meaning Grandfather Frost) brings gifts to good children on New Year’s Eve. With Ded Moroz, one sees how intersecting traditions can create a new mythological figure.
Ded Moroz’s origins can be traced to Slavic folklore, where Moroz is the personification of frost and something of a trickster god, hindering or helping mortals on a whim. In the midst of Russia’s westernization, Ded Moroz’s potential for malevolence was dropped and over the course of the 19th century, Ded Moroz became associated with Christmastime, though was still most associated with New Year’s Eve. The Ded Moroz story lost some of its edges, but Grandfather Frost has his own distinct characteristics, a Santa Claus figure born of a historical crossroads between Russia and the influence of the outside world.
Postcard promoting the Soviet space program
After the October Revolution in 1917, the Orthodox Church and its traditions were repressed by Russia’s new Communist government. Beginning in 1928, Ded Moroz and the elka (New Year’s tree) were banned under Joseph Stalin’s government, but this position later softened and New Year’s celebrations appeared during the late 1930s. Ded Moroz was joined by Snegurochka (or the Snow Maiden), a fairy tale figure from national folklore that emphasized Moroz’s Russian nature. Ded Moroz and his companion were used as a more secular alternative to Christmas celebrations, with the two appearing in Soviet propaganda campaigns.
Ded Moroz is still celebrated as a wintertime figure across Russia and parts of Eastern Europe, having traversed across a long 20th century. He is one of many such Santa Claus figures that appear in Europe, like Belschnickel in southern Germany or the more intimidating Krampus. Our modern-day image of Santa Claus may have been codified by things like Coke ads, but the story can be traced to a wellspring of different fairytales and pieces of folklore lore that spawned off other unique figures, Ded Moroz among them.
Read More!Larsen, Timothy. The Oxford Handbook of Christmas. First edition. Oxford ; Oxford University Press, 2020. Print.