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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sweetest Memories of a Soviet Childhood: Ded Moroz

 Of Russian origin: Ded Moroz

Originally published in Russiapedia

Grandfather Frost
Ded Moroz or Father Frost, the Slavic version of Santa Claus, long ago became the symbol of Russian winter, New Year’s and presents. He is usually accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka riding with an evergreen tree in a traditional Russiantroika, a sleigh drawn by three horses abreast.
Snegurochka is a unique attribute of the image of Ded Moroz – none of his foreign colleagues have such a cute companion.

The original Russian gift-giver was Saint Nicholas, the country's Patron Saint, whose Feast Day is celebrated on December 6th. The image of Saint Nicholas originates from the image of another hero – the ancient Morozko. In Russian folklore Morozko is a powerful hero and smith who chains water with his “iron” frosts. Morozko was not hostile to people - he helped them and presented them with awesome presents.
In fairy tales Morozko is at times kind and at times evil. To be precise, he is kind towards the hard working and the good-hearted, but extremely severe with the mean and the lazy. And it is not about justice only. It is rather about two personalities living in one magical person.

Ded Moroz and the Communists
In 1917, with the Bolshevik Revolution, Ded Moroz was banished into exile. He was considered a kind of a kids’ god, which was impermissible during Soviet times when Russian leaders were flatly against any manifestations of religiousness. But only 20 years later Ded Moroz returned to the country and New Year’s celebrations became public. Since then Ded Moroz and Snegurochka appear on New Year’s Eve, putting presents under the fir tree for the kids to find in the morning.

Those wishing to make acquaintance with Ded Moroz in his domestic surroundings can board trains and travel to the picturesque town of Veliky Ustyug in the Vologodsky Region of Northern Russia (approximately 500 miles northeast of Moscow) where, situated in the dense taiga forest at the confluence of three rivers, sits the log cabin of Ded Moroz.

Visiting him at home 
There, in Veliky Ustyug, Ded Moroz waits through the summer reading letters that kids from all over the country have written to him regarding the presents they wish to find under the New Year’s Tree the next January 1st.


 Ded Moroz has a number of distinguishing features that help tell him apart from his foreign colleagues: his shirt and trousers are made of flax and are usually decorated with white geometrical ornamental patterns. His fir coat is ankle long and is embroidered with silvery stars and crosses. His hat should be red and embroidered with pearls.
Ded Moroz wears mittens and a wide white belt. His footwear is luxurious – high boots with silver ornamentation, but on an exceptionally chilly day Ded Moroz can opt for valenki!
And finally he never appears without his pikestaff – made either of silver or crystal, it possesses a twisted gripe. It helps the not-so-young Ded Moroz make his way through the deep dark forest during long winter nights.
Despite the respectful age and the benevolent character children often tease Ded Moroz calling him “Ded Moroz the Red Nose.”

Ded Moroz it yourself!
Sometimes desperate parents of extra curious children eager to meet Ded Moroz in person disguise themselves as the gift-giver. In this case traditions are usually violated and the fake Fathers Frost may be noticed wearing slippers while their cotton-wool beards hang half glued to their chins.
Those who haven’t had the chance to meet the true Russian Ded Moroz and his cool granddaughter still have an opportunity to see their tiny replicas under the New Year’s Tree every December. Little statuettes, very accurately made, are often brought home by foreigners who long for genuine Russian winters, traditions and frost.

It’s one of the sweetest memories of a Soviet childhood. A bag of sweets that all school kids got as a New Year gift, and inside it, among lollypops and tangerines, were a few candies made of real chocolate. Little Squirrel, Golden Hen – the treats were often named after characters of the Russian tales. And while for the chocolate-starved Soviet kids they all tasted great, at the top of this sugary ecosystem was one unchallenged favorite, the Clumsy Bear.

Despite its title, the Clumsy Bear candies were and still are the epitome of confectionary elegance. On its wrapper, four bears are playing around a shuttered tree as depicted by the great Russian painter Ivan Shishkin.  The wrappers themselves were collectables, some of the oldest versions nowadays cost more than a pack of candies.

Krasny Oktyabr factory
And inside, below a layer of milk chocolate were two waffles with almond filling in between. With 531 calories in 100 grams, the treat presented a considerable threat to waistlines, yet dietary concerns were often abandoned as not many people in the Soviet Union could binge on the Clumsy Bear. In the Soviet Union, with its chronic shortage of everything, portion control was not a matter of will power. The state did it for you. Shops would only sell 300 grams of the candies per person, and since supply was very unreliable, most families would tuck the candies away for some special occasion, especially the New Year.

It’s believed that candies similar to the The Clumsy Bear were hand-made since the late 19th century. Their first industrial production began in 1925 by the Krasny Oktyabr (Red October) factory. And while many confectioners nowadays produce candies by the same title, the Red October version still remains Russians’ favorite.