I first met Father Frost (Ded Moroz – Дед Мороз) in the early 1990’s. My husband brought him home from one of his many business trips to what was then called the FSU (Former Soviet Union). I was enchanted; I loved his “orthodox” outfit and typically Soviet naivety. Of the many gifts my husband was given during his travels (which ranged from exquisite china to a shovel built for a midget) he was my favourite.
Although the roots of Father Frost go back to pagan beliefs, over the years he adopted traits from Saint Nicholas and latterly has essentially become the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus. The main differences are that he brings gifts at New Year, rather than Christmas and is accompanied by Snow Maiden, his grand-daughter. All this was explained to me several years later when we moved to Azerbaijan. A group of university students used to visit me once a week to practise their conversational English and from them I learned a lot about Azerbaijan and Soviet Union traditions.
The first two years we were in Baku we travelled to spend Christmas with family. But the last year we decided to celebrate “at home.” It was a bit of a challenge as all our Christmas decorations were in storage in Canada and there was nothing in the local stores. Azerbaijan is a Muslim country and even the few Russians living there who were Christian would not be celebrating until January 7, the Orthodox Christmas. Fortunately a departing expat gave me a small table-top tree, but I think my students realized that I was missing many of the traditions from home.
The few expats who were in town got together on Christmas Day for a pot-luck dinner at a friend’s apartment. Afterwards we lit candles, dimmed the lights and sang carols. It was a simple yet memorable evening. But the icing on the cake that year was a knock on my apartment door on New Year’s Eve. Yes! Who should it be but Father Frost himself and Snow Maiden. Bahruz, one of my students and his girlfriend had travelled across town, carefully donning their outfits in the stairwell of my apartment building. We laughed and hugged as I let them in. I was so impressed that they had gone to all that trouble to surprise me.
Every year as I unpack my Christmas decorations they bring back happy memories – the tarnished baubles from my childhood, the beautiful blown glass ornaments I bought in Egypt, the clumsily sewn decorations I made at Stitch ‘N Bitch in Dubai – yet the one that makes me smile the most is Father Frost.