The tale of Snegurochka the Snow Maiden caught the Russian imagination in the 19th Century and she has been embraced by popular culture ever since. In pre-revolutionary times, her image was already present on nesting Matrioshka dolls, Christmas decorations and decorative lacquer boxes. Today, she and Ded Moroz are an established double-act in Russian New Year celebrations with their decorated personas recognisable and fondly regarded across Russia.
Their modern partnership seems to have been formally cemented by the 1935 Soviet re-introduction of mid-Winter festivities after Christmas was banned with the abolishment of the Tsars. Re-visited under the scrutiny of communist approval, Christmas as an essentially religious festival (though you may not think it today) was undesirable but New Year was a safe and acceptable choice instead.
Similarly, Snegurochka and Ded Moroz’s origins were respectively secular and Pagan in nature, making them ideal figure-heads for the annual State-approved festivities. (“Christmas” fir trees even got a look-in and remain a part of the celebrations to this day).
So the match was made, with their re-defined relationship as grand-daughter and grand-father etched in stone as well as in the broader Russian consciousness – in spite of earlier confusions and contradictions. The Russians got their Christmas back, although displaced by a few days and somewhat recast when compared to the Western version! Still, it didn’t matter and in spite of the age/relationship gap, Russian parents eagerly donned Ded Moroz and Snegurochka outfits to bestow their offspring with the now non-Christmas gifts. Whatever works.
Alexander Ostrovsky’s 1873 play (mentioned last week) and his location in the broader Kostroma area seems to have crystalised and personified the character of Snegurochka, kick-starting what was to come and giving her an official home to boot. Now ‘real’, she also has official birthday celebrations – across two days no less: the 27th and 28th of March. That’s within Kostroma – she hasn’t quite managed a national public holiday yet!
She does however have her own ‘Fairy-Land’ attraction within Kostroma where visitors can ‘meet her’ – in the same way that children meet Santa. She extols the virtues of folk traditions, offers participation in crafts and introduces various characters from Ostrovsky’s play of her life.
The city also has a themed Snegurochka hotel with an associated Ice Palace, and a dedicated souvenir shop selling linens and local crafted toys and other items in her name. There’s even an ‘official residence’ within Kostroma which starts to bizarrely make her appear as Russian royalty! Again, more activities await inside, along with space to hold birthday parties and such.
Her character has also broken out of the provinces and figures prominently in the Moscow-based Russian National Dance show Kostroma, which (again) redraws her – this time as a figure at the core of ancient Russia. She is certainly adaptable.
So Snegurochka is established within Russia in her own right, even compared to the cultural monolith that is Ded Moroz. Both have become Russian elemental manifestations of winter and the celebrations therein; perhaps equivalent in modern terms to the pagan god of the harvest or the goddess of Spring. What next, a global presence? Disney’s Frozen crowd would love her.