Meet Ded Moroz in Velikiy Ustyug

Issue Number: 
Photo and text by Igor POPOV

It happened a little over a year ago. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov was in the midst of one of his infamous proclamations, and this time, Santa Claus, no less, was the topic of the day.

"Why do we need this shabby foreign Santa Claus when we have a strong, mighty, great Russian Ded Moroz?" he asked.

Last year, he proclaimed that not only does Russia have its own national Christmas hero, but that he has a permanent residence far away from the Russian capital. Velikiye Ustyug.

Outwardly Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) looks more imposing than Santa Claus. He has broader shoulders, his beard is thicker, and even his clothes are better. Instead of a light hood he has a fur hat with a red top, decorated with silver and pearls, and instead of a light jacket he has a big warm fur coat. His boots are also made from silver, and he is holding a heavy ice stick. And no glasses! Ded also has a faster method of transport- a jaunty Russian troika of horses instead of a single northern deer!

Luzhkovian Brainchild

Where does the Russian Ded Moroz live? A year ago Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov gave a definite and irrevocable answer to this question - Russian Ded Moroz lives in Velikiy Ustyug! (Velikiy Ustyug is located in the Vologda region, approximately 1,000 kilometers northeast of Moscow). Plans have been made for Russian Ded Moroz to have a "permanent home address" in Velikiy Ustyug where a residence matching his high status and an entertainment park "V Gostyakh U Deda Moroza" (We Are Guests of Ded Moroz Here) will be built.

The park has been projected along the lines of the Finnish Santa Claus Village. The project of building a fairy-tale town within 15 kilometers of the city featuring Ded Moroz's palace, his post office, souvenir stores, guest houses, a zoo, etc., is being undertaken by the Ded Moroz joint-stock company. The company was founded in Velikiy Ustyug by the Moscow government, Vologda regional administration, Velikiy Ustyug district administration and Novatorskiy forestry.

Progress is slow, allegedly due to cash shortages, however evil tongues name other reasons - everybody is waiting for the results of the upcoming mayoral elections in Moscow. If Yuri Luzhkov preserves his seat the project will be quickly brought to completion. Currently, accomplishments include an unfinished palace, three cottages for tourists, heaps of souvenirs and colorful advertising pamphlets.

Why Velikiy Ustyug? To provide a plausible explanation local historians and ethnographers invented a tale featuring Ded Moroz and his brother Aquarius, who is found on the Veliliy Ustyug coat of arms. The two brothers were born at the Hill of Gleden near the city on the banks of River Sukhona. They grew up together, but quarrelled. Ded Moroz first founded his own village Morozovitsa and then travelled around the world. Now he has returned to his roots and plans to stay at Velikiy Ustyug for a long time.

It is quite clear that Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Vologda regional governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev have plans to exploit Ded Moroz in the way the Finns exploit Santa Claus. They rejected a $3.5 million Coca-Cola offer to put a bottle of the famous western drink in Ded Moroz's hand. It is better to let him drink genuine Russian beverages, like kvass or medovukha! Russia's beloved hero cannot bear anything Western!

Fairy Tale Land is Here

As for children, they are not interested in political and economic nuances. They want magic and miracles and they will have them if the project is ever brought to completion. Velikiy Ustyug will not disappoint adult visitors either. The city is surrounded by vast, magnificent forests and fields, and the quaint, meandering river Sukhon adds to the color of Russia's north, which is by no means inferior to Finnish Laplandia. But Finland does not have an old and beautiful city like Velikiy Ustyug!

Velikiy Ustyug is as old as Moscow, and as it has not experienced any destructive foreign invasions the city has preserved all its remarkable memorials and is a real find for admirers of Russian history and ancient architecture. We will name but a few pearls of Velikiy Ustyug.

l The Church of Ascension located in the center beside the Earthen Bridge is the city's oldest building dating back to 1648. Richly decorated, the church is the pride of Velikiy Ustyug.

l Five-cupola Prokopiev Cathedral (1668)

l Ioann Ustyuzhsky Cathedral (1663)

l The Church of Advent (1689)

l The Church of Savior and Transfiguration featuring a hip-roofed belfry (1696)

lThe Church of Purification and Transfiguration (1725-1739)

These and many other churches of Velikiy Ustyug have icons of the 17th and 18th century, which are regarded among the most famous and valuable in Russia.

Secular memorials include numerous mansions with picturesque balconies, attics, carved window aprons and towers.

Velikiy Ustyug has a developed industry of folk crafts and folklore, including woodcarving, painting on bark and silver blacking. Its products are exported to foreign countries as far afield as Australia. Local factories, The Patterns of Velikiy Ustyug and Northern Blacking, produce remarkable souvenirs. Lovers of Russian crafts can buy a pair of genuine Russian lapti - traditional peasant footwear made of bast- at the city's central market. Throw away your stylish shoes from Valentino and go to Velikiy Ustyug for lapti!!!

They say, Ded Moroz loves his new home. However far away, the city is extremely beautiful and attractive. We hope you will love it at the first sight.

The differences between the two bearers of winter gifts go wayback to their conception. Santa Claus has purely Christian roots. He is essentially a Catholic Saint Nicolas who had once given Christmas presents to good people. Ded Moroz is a purely pagan character bearing no links to Christianity or Christmas. Not for nothing did Orthodox priests fight against the cult of Ded Moroz, calling it heretical and pernicious. They eventually gave up when they finally understood the children's pet could not be banned. Ded Moroz symbolizes severe winter frost and ascends to the pagan gods of elements - Perune, Troyan, Rode and others.

The functions of Ded Moroz are broader than those of Santa Claus. Ded Moroz is the master of winter and its snowstorms, cold winds, ice and the Northern Lights. He freezes rivers and lakes, covers trees with snowy hats and governs the life of animals and people during winter. He is a powerful magician who is not always kind, sometimes quite severe, however he never hurts children. Giving New Year's Day presents is only one of his numerous chores and cares.

Due to massive PR/advertising campaigns on the part of Finnish agencies, Santa Claus is widely believed to have his home in Finnish Laplandia. These efforts have provided a return in lavish profits as the Finnish city of Rovania at the Polar Circle has become a popular tourist destination. The Swedes, Norwegians and other northern nations can only curse themselves in fury for being too late to "privatize" Santa Claus.