Like all countries in Eastern Europe, Russia has its own version of Santa Claus associated with the country's Christmas and New Year's traditions. He differs slightly from the jovial, round-bellied, red-suited gentleman appearing in Hollywood films and on Christmas cards in the U.S. The Russian Santa Claus is known as Ded Moroz, which translates to “Grandfather Frost," but most English speakers simply call him “Father Frost.”
While Ded Moroz is the local equivalent of Santa Claus, he is unmistakably Russian in appearance and attitude, typically appearing in a long coat in red, icy blue, silver, or gold—lined or trimmed with white fur.
Lacking the conical-style cap worn by the Western Santa, Ded Moroz instead sports a rounded Russian cap generously trimmed with fur, and his clothing is sometimes richly decorated with embroidery. Carrying a staff and sporting a long, white beard, Ded Moroz protects his feet from the cold by wearing traditional felt boots called valenki which are popular in Russia, or leather boots. Usually shown as a tall and slender older man, Ded Moroz cuts an elegant figure on Christmas cards wishing the receiver a happy New Year.
Ded Moroz Traditions
Since the three horses of the Russian troika sled offer enough power and speed to get Ded Moroz to where he needs to go, he has no need for eight reindeer.
Ded Moroz delivers gifts on New Year's Eve rather than on Christmas Eve due to the shifting of this tradition to the more secular holiday during Soviet times. Incidentally, the holiday tree is for the New Year, rather than Christmas, though it might appear early enough to mark both occasions, particularly due to the fact that Russia's Christmas is celebrated after the first of the year, according to the Orthodox Church calendar.
Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden—a figure from Russian fairy tales—often accompanies Ded Moroz. In the legend, she is said to be his granddaughter and is typically portrayed as blonde, rosy-cheeked, and smiling, but this figure also dresses in the wintry colors of the season to assist Father Frost in his efforts to distribute gifts.
Where to See Ded Moroz in Russia
Instead of the North Pole, the Russian Santa Claus lives at an estate in the town of Veliky Ustyug in Vologda Oblast, and children can send letters to Ded Moroz in the town in hopes of having their holiday wishes granted. Those who visit Veliky Ustyug can have their photo taken with Ded Moroz, ride in a troika, and enjoy wintertime activities.
During the holiday season, Ded Moroz makes appearances in major Russian cities like Moscow, and he often takes part in festivals and parades. If you're planning on visiting Russia this Christmas season, check ahead for where the jolly character will be showing up. Before your trip, prepare your children for a slightly different version of Santa Claus.