How Soviet Russia Banished Their Version of Santa Claus, Then Brought Him Back to Spread Communist Cheer

President Vladimir Putin (L) is seen joking
President Vladimir Putin (L) is seen with a man disguised as Ded Moroz, the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus, at the Ded Moroz Palace in Veliky Ustyug in the Vologda region, about 650 kilometers north of Moscow, on Jan. 7, 2008 . Credit - Misha Japardze - AFP via Getty Images
All over the world there are different versions of the funny, bearded man who gives gifts to children in December or in some countries in January. In contrast to the bloated, red-clad Santa Claus of the West, Russian Santa Claus, known as Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost), is slender with a magical flowing beard and wears a long robe that comes in a variety of colors such as blue and white.
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He is not supported by elves, but by his beautiful granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow White). His sleigh is not driven by reindeer, but by three steel horses. What really sets Russian Santa Claus apart from his western counterpart is the tumultuous century he is facing. He survived a violent social and political revolution in which he passed from loved to exiled as a subversive element, then loved again and hailed as a symbol of the true Russian spirit.
The troubles for Ded Moroz and his grandson, derived from pagan Slavic mythology, began with the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922. Under the new communist regime based on the promise of social equality, religion as such was banned viewed as a bourgeois instrument for oppression of the working class. Many clergymen and some believers in the Russian Orthodox Church were sent to labor camps or killed. In 1928, Ded Moroz was exiled after "being exposed as an ally of the priest and the kulak [allegedly rich peasants whom the Communist Party viewed as a threat to their power]," explains Karen Petrone in her book "Life is More." become "Happy, comrades. Christmas Day, celebrated on January 7 in Russia and some Eastern European countries following the Julian calendar, has been deleted and all festive celebrations have been banned. Those who broke the rules risked arrest.
In a sharp turn in 1935, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin decided to get Ded Moroz out of the cold in order to "increase his popularity and maintain stability," says Petrone, a history professor at Kentucky University. An aggressive period of collectivization between 1929 and 1932, when the government forced farmers to abandon their individual land and join collective farms, sparked fierce opposition. Millions of peasants who opposed the policy were sent to prison camps. The disruption caused by collectivization resulted in a famine that killed at least five million people across the Soviet Union.
Stalin lifted a ban on celebrations, but not until New Year's Eve, to avoid giving religious significance to the celebrations, and instructed Ded Moroz to give gifts on the morning of January 1, naming them in Petrone, considered an "economic evil" New Year trees around. "Life has gotten better, comrades, life has become more joyful," said Stalin in 1935 when he promised the workers a better standard of living.
State-controlled recordings of New Year's Eve celebrations showing happy workers dancing and drinking to the health of Stalin painted the picture of a more prosperous era. In reality, however, life has not improved for the majority of the population. Such recordings were part of the state's propaganda machine trying to portray the Soviet Union as a "superior system" over the capitalist West, which was in an economic depression, says Petrone.
Ded Moroz was more than just a gift giver, he was the giver of pro-communist PR. In 1949 the Associated Press reported that when Ded Moroz met with children, he would typically end his conversation with the question, "Who do we owe all the good things in socialist society?" The children's choir "Stalin" should respond to this. In the 1960s, at the height of the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States, Ded Moroz appeared on maps and posters in flying rockets, some with the caption, “Ded Moroz is seriously ready for space flight. "
Ded Moroz sees a missile in a postcard from 1963. Katya Zykova /
A New Years card from 1962 shows Ded Moroz with a boy waving a communist flag PostcardWatch USSR /
Meanwhile, some US officials used Ded Moroz to point out the alleged dangers of ending religious practices. In 1966, Senator Joseph McCarthy warned that "brutal cynicism" was on the rise in the US in response to a 1962 ban on government-sponsored public school prayer, "which was only rivaled by the Soviet Union, where they eliminated Santa Claus and brought in Grandfather Frost. Will that satisfy the children of America? "
When communism began to fall across Europe in 1989, Ded Moroz fell out of favor in some of the Eastern European satellite states to which the Russian gift giver had been exported. Countries like Bulgaria and Romania restored their original versions of Santa Claus when they returned to their ancient customs.
When the cultural influence of the West invaded new capitalist Russia in the 1990s and with it Coca-Cola billboards with a glowing Western Santa Claus and ornaments of the limp man on the shop fronts, Ded Moroz decided to do business. In 1998, then Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov and the local authorities marketed Veliky Ustyug, a small town surrounded by pine forests in the northern region of Vologda, as the home of Ded Moroz and built him a wooden palace with 12 rooms. The palace, which is open all year round, attracts around 250,000 guests annually. Near his residence, you can rent cottages where you have access to a swimming pool, sports facilities such as skis and sledges, a restaurant and a New Year souvenir shop. In the capital Moscow, Ded Moroz has branches in Kuzminki Park and on the 55th floor of the Imperia Tower in the city center for visitors over the New Year. Ded Moroz and Snegurochka appear regularly in advertisements, including for Pepsi and the Russian Sberbank.
Ded Moroz is still the most popular gift giver in Russia today, and the New Year is the most important winter holiday. However, there seems to be a rivalry between the Slavic magician, whom some politicians promote as a true symbol of the Russian spirit, and his Western counterpart, who is often viewed as a "deceiver".
In 2008, then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who had taken steps to revive Soviet nostalgia and forge closer ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, visited the wooden palace of Ded Moroz. That same year, Luzhkov said, “Look at our huge, handsome Ded Moroz. The measly Santa Claus is far from him! “After the escort of Ded Moroz through the center of Moscow. Boris Gryzlov, a speaker at the time, said: "Nobody will ever be able to take Ded Moroz away from Russia - neither Santa Claus nor any other impostor."
Some Russians feel very passionate about their traditional winter figure and their desire to protect it from Western culture. In December, Denis Amosov, a marketing specialist from the Siberian city of Tomsk, filed a lawsuit seeking 30 million rubles ($ 411,000) in compensation for “moral damages” against Coca Cola for “imposing” Western Santa Claus in his Russian advertising was called for. He also appealed to Putin and the Ministry of Culture to curtail "Santa Propaganda" in the country. In an Instagram post, Amosov said: "There is a connection between adults and children, that a Happy New Year is only possible with Coca Cola and Santa Claus, Russian traditions and centuries of history are being lost."
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