Meet Ukraine's Santa Claus

Hundrends of people gathered in Kiev's city centre celebrating Christmas by dressing as Santa Claus

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In Ukrainian tradition, Santa Claus is known either as St. Nicholas (Svyatyy Mykolay, also spelled Sviatyij Mykolai) or Father Frost (Did Moroz). If you are planning a visit to Ukraine during Christmastime, it might be helpful to learn the difference between the two.

Because the majority of Ukrainians identify as Eastern Orthodox, most of the country celebrates Christmas Day on January 7 in accordance with the Orthodox religious calendar. Some kids receive gifts on this day or Christmas Eve, depending on which part of the country you're in. And as for the guy who delivers them, he goes by one of two names.

Father Frost

Like Russia's Ded Moroz or Father Frost, sometimes called Grandfather Frost, Did Moroz is the jolly figure who brings gifts to children on New Year's Eve. He is the equivalent of America's Father Christmas, always wearing a heel-length fur coat, a semi-round fur hat on his head, and felt boots on his feet. He has a long white beard and walks with a long magic staff. Sometimes he rides in a carriage. While there certainly are many similarities between Father Frost and Santa Claus, the two differ in many ways. In Ukranian tradition, for instance, Did Moroz is usually accompanied by his granddaughter, Snihuronka, also known as the snow maiden, who wears long silver-blue robes and a furry cap or a snowflake-like crown.

The origins of the character of Did Moroz predate Christianity as a Slavic wizard of winter. In some books, he is a son of Slavic pagan gods. In Slavic mythology, Father Frost is known as a snow demon.

Saint Nicholas

St. Nicholas Day, or Svyatyy Mykolay, is a celebration of one of the country's most important saints. It is a time for charity. The Ukrainian president usually issues a statement wishing Ukrainians a happy St. Nicholas Day with an admonition to remember the less fortunate.

In predominantly Orthodox nations, the Day of St. Nicholas is observed on December 19, which is when Svyatyy Mykolay is more likely to make an appearance in Ukraine due to the residents' vast association with the Eastern Orthodox Church. Ukraine does also have a decently sized Roman Catholic population, so if you are visiting on December 6, you may hear about Svyatyy Mykolay visiting children with presents that day instead.

Ukrainian St. Nick is usually dressed in a red bishop's robe and a hat. He is accompanied by angels, or sometimes an angel and a devil, which are meant to remind children to be good and avoid evil. He is essentially the post-Soviet version of the communist-era Father Frost. While others may receive gifts on Christmas Day, January 7, St. Nicholas dispenses gifts to well-behaved kids on St. Nicholas Day. He may also leave a switch or a willow branch under a child's pillow to remind them to be on their best behavior. The tradition of Svyatyy Mykolay also largely symbolizes the cold weather to come.

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