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It’s not Santa Claus but Grandpa Frost that leaves Russian children
It’s not Santa Claus but Grandpa Frost that leaves Russian children their presents at Christmas. He’s not a relative of Santa Claus or St. Nicholas, but is Russia’s own heralder of the holidays, and his background story is a fascinating one.

Russians are a fun-loving people and eagerly accept foreign holidays. Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and St. Valentine’s Day were never celebrated in Russia under the Tsars or the Soviets but have become staples in the Russian calendar over the last fifteen years. Russians adore celebrations, and welcome any occasion that helps them get away from it all.

New celebrations are even more popular than the long-established ones, especially among young people. St. Valentine’s Day is now more loved throughout Russia than March 8, International Women’s Day, the traditional Soviet holiday introduced in 1917 which celebrates women. Or take St. Patrick’s Day, with its fancy dress parades along the still snowy Moscow streets, celebrated with bagpipes and beer, and yet few remember the Irish roots of this holiday. Russians regard it as the advent of spring, whose final victory over the long winter is celebrated on May Day.

New Year’s Eve is the only holiday to fully retain its ethnic coloring. Christmas, banned during the Soviet period as a religious holiday, was reinstated after Russia cast off the communist ideology. In the 1920s and 30s, the Bolsheviks were determined to scrap New Year’s celebrations, too, but people’s staunch resistance proved stronger and New Year’s Eve joined the list of official holidays.

As for Grandpa Frost, he emerged in the Slavonic pagan mythology as the god of winter under the names of Studenets, Moroz or Morozko, all meaning “frost” in Russian. He was known as a fierce deity, turning everyone who did not worship him into blocks of ice.

He became the endearing figure we know today at the start of the 18th century, when Peter the Great adopted the Western European calendar, shifting New Year’s celebrations from September 1 to January 1. With the change, Grandpa Frost no longer demanded sacrifices but brought gifts. He retained his severity, however, and never appeared without a huge magical staff with which he was believed to punish naughty boys and girls while granting gifts to the well-behaved.

Over the last three centuries he has softened up. Now Grandpa Frost is a good-natured old gentleman, who has given up corporal punishment and makes gifts to all children and adults, regardless of their behavior. As tradition has it, he lives in Veliky Ustyug, a small town in the north of European Russia, founded in the 12th century at the same time as Moscow.

Grandpa Frost could not have found a better place to settle down in than this tiny town surrounded by forests, a town with long-established crafts and customs, brimming with merriment and hospitality.

Grandpa Frost’s estate can be found in a luscious pine forest 10 miles from town. Also found in Ustyug are his gift shop, a post office and museum. Grandpa Frost leaves home at the end of December to start winter celebrations and deliver generous gifts.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Source: Rossiiskaya Gazeta

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