So the transformation of several Slavic supernatural entities into the modern Russian Santa becomes complete. In our two previous blog posts, we’ve been looking at the gradual metamorphosis of fearsome ancient figures of myth as they were gradually distilled throughout history into one manageable whole. Forget the terrifying old gods; now it’s about commerce, decked out in clothes that would make Liberace blanch – well actually, he would have probably loved them, but I digress.
You may find him (not Liberace) at corporate-sponsored business events, where hiring Ded Moroz for an appearance is a pricey status symbol and a nice seasonal earner for the agencies involved. An upmarket visit to a “money” event by Ded Moroz and Snegurochka could easily reach £3000 for a couple of hours work. It seems that the original gift-giving to Ded Moroz hasn’t quite gone away after all. Paid product promotion can also be part of the ever-commercial deal.
At the other end of the scale, the festive pair can be booked for domestic visits starting at roughly £50 for a quick half-hour, though costs can spiral upwards as extras: a traditional dance around the tree, supplementary ‘wintery’ characters etc. are involved. Even The fabled Russian witch: Baba Yaga can make an appearance, with the snowy pair fending her off as she tries to depart with the children’s presents.
It’s all a far cry from the 1937 Soviet reintroduction of Christmas, when local trade unions delegated workers to play Ded Moroz and Snegurochka, sending them around worker’s houses with subsidised gifts of small foods and confectionery in return for a song or two. Mercifully though, it is not all loathsome and plasticised, as volunteers still dress up as these winter figureheads and visit Russian orphanages for the benefit and pleasure of the children within.
The modern Ded Moroz essentially fills a similar role to our Coca-Cola-ad inspired Santa, with a few Russian twists of course. I’ve already mentioned his magical staff, retained from his best forgotten child-ransoming, evil wizard days – but other differences are still extant. His preferred mode of transport is the traditional Russian Troika – essentially a three-horse-drawn sledge. No reindeer-power here, although yes, there are reindeer in Siberia, herded still by nomadic tribes.
Ded Moroz is also more hands-on when compared to our hit-and-run Santa. He’ll usually turn up to “New Year Tree Party” events with Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden) and hand over presents personally after they’ve entertained the attendant children with join-in song and dance routines, riddles and games. Quite the workout, then – under all those furs. He is also seen out in various winter festivals and parades. You may notice that he is depicted a good deal fitter than our morbidly obese seasonal variant, obviously with good reason. There’s no ho-ho-ho-ing either, that too is a Western thing.
His general character appearance seems – appropriately enough – to be informed by the brutal Russian winter. So the hat is based on a traditional fur-trimmed Russian cap rather than our pointy, bobble-affair and he is depicted wearing thick red mittens, an ankle-length fur coat and high leather boots. These may be substituted for traditional Valenki – the warm felt boots worn by well-healed (literally) consumers in Russia since the 18th Century; although the fundamental design has been in use by nomadic Asian tribes for over 1500 years (factory production at the end of the 19th Century brought them within the reach of the common consumer).
The flaxen under-shirt and trousers complete the ensemble, which you’ll also find repeatedly in images historically depicting male outdoor-wear in Russian culture – even down to the beard. Indeed, it seems that the basic layout transgressed borders of class and wealth, but the relative depth of your pocket would determine the quality of manufacture and material involved, and the decoration thereon.
Finally, as you might expect: Ded Moroz doesn’t live in Lapland. His official residence (where children can mail him, direct) is in Veliky Ustyug, situated in Northern Russia’s Vologodsky Region and visited in 2008 by Vladimir Putin (as shown in our previous article)!
I’ll sidestep corresponding issues of “naughty or nice” at this point and exit with a sincere: “bah humbug” to all of you. I feel the need to immerse myself in horror films before I collapse into a mound of pure saccharin. Aggh!