The thought of Christmas generally makes me physically ill. Here in the UK it’s become a repellent gluttony, greed and sloth fest – with optional pride and envy thrown in. Most of the seven deadly sins are covered at a stroke in the season of Mammon who seems to elbow out the Christian God in an annual popularity grudge-match, year-in and year-out.
That’s in spite of the early Church’s white-washing – indeed high-jacking – of the winter festival’s Pagan significance. Something of a come-down for a supposedly Christian country. Whereas the original Pagan meaning may have been unpalatable to the new religion, its proponents would surely throw up their hands in horror if they could see what the fruit of their labours would ultimately morph grotesquely into.
The Alpine countries of north and central Europe have surely got this Christmas thing wrapped with their inclusion of St. Nicholas’s demonic side-kick; Krampus. Just a reminder that whilst stuffing your face, you’d better be nice rather than naughty, lest you be beaten or even carried away by this horned man-beast from a Pagan hell, and devoured in his dank cave. Are you sitting comfortably, children?
Even in relatively modern times, costumed versions of St. Nick and Krampus would go door-to-door in order to respectively reward and terrify wide-eyed youngsters into good behaviour.
That’s in relatively modern streets and homes – way out in the backwoods, St. Nick may be dispensed with altogether, leaving Krampus and his host of antlered beast-men to stalk the snowy wastes and hamlets.
Meanwhile in Russia and in other Slavic nations, there may be no snow demons to peer at from your window, but there is the reformed character of the once decidedly evil sorcerer: Ded Moroz. His name translates as Grandfather Frost or Old Man Frost, and in a strange twist, we have the communists to thank for his continued real-world manifestation out of long remembered fairy and folk tales. Who’d have guessed?
His general persona is that of a decidedly bling Father Christmas. Imagine if Santa did rap, and you’d be getting there. Of course, the Soviets would not have him appear at Christmas because there simply was no Christmas (as we know it) under communism due to its Christian packaging. That’s of course in spite of its acknowledged Pagan roots. Make sense of that if you can!
Ded Moroz had been a mythical gift giving figure associated with the New Year, but even that was too close for communism.
However, after a post-revolution absence of two decades, it was decided that a winter festival of some kind should be reinstated – largely for the benefit of the children – and so the secular (actually Pagan) New Year celebrations were officially reinstated with Ded Moroz – and his Snow Maiden granddaughter – elevated to the status of seasonal figure heads. Even after communism, the new/revived tradition has stuck and is still celebrated today.
The most bizarre twist occurred throughout the Stalin years where Ded Moroz, Snegurochka (Snow Maiden) and the newly introduced “New Year Boy” appeared as surreal analogues of the Christian, Joseph, The Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, respectively – and all at the New Year celebrations too. Once accepted by the state, the word spread to other countries under communist rule and these popular characters have since outlived the regime that tried to sanction and subdue them.
More on Ded Moroz next time.
[Photo by Sochi Olympic Games 2014]