Meet Father Frost and his Fairy Goddaughter Snow Maiden: Magical Characters of Winter from Russia
Ded Moroz, translated to (Grand)father Frost, or Old Man Frost, is a legendary Slavic character that makes his rounds every New Year’s Eve. Along with his companion, Snegurochka, he brings delight to children as the two provide the little ones with gifts.
Although there are undoubtedly similarities between the character of Ded Moroz and another jolly man dressed in red who delivers presents, there are certain traits of this famous icon that differ from his western counterpart as well.
Origins and Characteristics of Ded Moroz
Ded Moroz is a holiday character that has been transformed over the years. Pre-dating Christianity, Ded Moroz was a Slavic wizard, or demon, of winter. As legends show, the modern Ded Moroz favors the kind, gentle, and hardworking, but also is ready to punish any who are mean or lazy.
He was not always this way however, and today’s Father Frost, was once the ancient Morozko who, according to Russia Info Centre, was “a powerful hero and smith who chains water with his “iron” frosts.” Russian folk tales told of people “feeding” Morozko oatmeal kissel or kutya (boiled rice with raisins and honey) so he would not freeze their plants.
The darker side of Ded Moroz is also made apparent in Nikolai Nekrasov’s poem “Moroz – Red Nose;” a tale telling of Ded Moroz killing a peasant widow and orphaning her children. This cruel wizard of winter was also capable in the past of kidnapping children, and only returning them when their parents provided him with gifts.
Postcard of Ded Moroz by Matorin Nikolay Vasilyevich from 1917. ( Public Domain )
Around the 19th century, the magical figure changed, and instead of kidnapping children, he now provides them with presents on New Year’s. However, his negative traits are still sometimes visible alongside his positive ones, in the stories of Father Frost - who is also called King Frost in the tales.
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According to tradition, Ded Moroz is about 2,000 years old, and Russian children provided him with a birthday of November 18. The home of Ded Moroz is found in Veliky Ustyug, Vologda Region, Russia, and is often visited by children and friends of Father Frost.
Ded Moroz in his home at Veliky Ustyug, Vologda Region, Russia. ( Kremlin.ru/CC BY 4.0 )
The holiday character can also be found travelling in and around Russia visiting children and acquaintances beginning in November, although his most important night in New Year’s Eve. This is the night that traditionally, Ded Moroz and his companion Snegurochka put presents under the fir tree (New Year’s Tree) for children to discover in the morning.
Regarding his appearance, Grandfather Frost is very similar to Father Christmas/Santa Claus. Generally, he is depicted as having a white beard and red nose and cheeks. He wears a long red coat, that is embroidered with stars and crosses, and has white fluff around the edges. He also has a red cap that is embroidered with pearls. His shirt and trousers are made of linen and also embroidered. He is often seen to be wearing red or white mittens and valenki (felt boots) on his feet. Due to his old age, and for magical powers, he also uses a pikestaff of silver or crystal.
A Short Story of King Frost
A popular tale begins with an angry stepmother who is tired of seeing and hearing her good-natured and unselfish stepdaughter, yet provides to every whim of her own daughter. One day the stepmother tells her husband to be rid of the young girl, saying: “Send her away, old man; send her away-anywhere so that my eyes shan't be plagued any longer by the sight of her, or my ears tormented by the sound of her voice. Send her out into the fields, and let the cutting frost do for her.”
“Send her away, old man…” ( Public Domain )
The old man begged his wife to reconsider, but finding her unmovable, he agreed and took his daughter out to the sled. Not even providing her with a warm blanket, he left the girl with a kiss, before quickly returning to his home, daring not to look back and see his beloved daughter suffering.
The poor girl sat down beside a fir tree and began to weep quietly. Soon she heard a crackling noise and looked up to see King Frost standing beside her.