On December 26, my Belarusian friend gleefully told me that he had spent the day shopping for presents in New York, scooping up incredible post-Christmas deals.
He could do this because his family, like many from former Soviet states, opens presents on New Year’s Day. What’s more, they say gifts come not from Santa Claus but rather from Grandfather Frost, called D’yed Moroz in Russia.
While this tradition is quite popular today, it was created only recently as part of a Soviet campaign that gives new meaning to the idea of a war on Christmas.
Here’s more from “The World Encyclopedia Of Christmas” by William D. Crump:
Seeking to eradicate Christmas, the Communists established a secular Winter Festival during the last half of December as a period devoted to feating, fantasy, fireworks, and parades. During his rule (1929 — 1953), dictator Joseph Stalin declared New Year’s Day as a national family holiday instead of Christmas and replaced the Christmas tree with the New Year’s tree in 1935. Grandfather Frost [a white-beared character in a fur coat from Russian folklore who bore gifts in a sleigh pulled by three horses], now appearing in either blue or red, was retained to bring gifts of New Year’s Even instead of Christmas Eve, and two more figures were added to complement him. One of these, Snegurochka (“Snow Maiden”), was based on a secular legend about a childless, elderly couple who, desiring a child of their own, fashioned a little girl out of snow. Although she achieved mortality and became their daughter during the winter, she melted as spring approached but returned annually with the winter snows. Snow Maiden, portrayed as a beautiful young girl with blond braids, white fur hat, blue robe or short fur coat, and knee boots, became Grandfather Frost’s granddaughter who assisted him on his rounds. A youth portrayed the other figure, New Year’s Boy, who depicted the freshness of the new year, and his costume bore the numerals of the new year. Secular equivalents to Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child, groups comprising Grandfather Frost, Snow Maiden, and New Year’s Boy made public appearances throughout the country, the most notable of which was as the annual New Year’s children’s festival held at the Palace of Congresses in the Kremlin. Adults imbibed vodka on New Year’s Eve, champagne on New Year’s Day, and feasted on suckling pig, karavay (round bread), and baba (round coffeecake).
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, although New Year’s celebrations have continued to dominate the holidays, Russians have incorporated the “Catholic Christmas” into the season.
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