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Travels in Russia

KLM Rocks Across Europe!
Television Is a Time Suck
The Reality of Irrelevance
Salute Mayor Luzhkov
Impeachment Happens
I Am Not The Only One...
I'm Back! Did Ya Miss Me?
Chechnya Burning
Weddings in Winter
The Jews Are Here!
Gailyn Goes to Town
Is There a Central Bank?
Santa Barbara is Real
Nick's Thanksgiving in Russia
Den' Rozhdeniya = Birthdays
Those Crazy Expats
It's Just a Few Drops of Vodka...
Elections Are Always Rigged
The Blind Leading the Blind
Good Russian Grooms
You Say 'Boris Berezovskiy' Fast
Too Cold to Care!
Russian Oil Towns
Sneaky Siberian Tigers
Which Way is St Peterburg?
Where am I again? Oh, yeah...
I Love Me Some Vodka
It's a Gosorg Halloween
Hunger Comes to Us All
Why Don't They Just Learn English?!
Post-Crisis, Life Goes On
Is Yeltsin 'The Man'?
Murmansk - Brrrr!
Taganka Hides Her Secrects
These are Communists
It's a Power Vaccum
The Commies are Back
Propaganda is Good for You
You Better Buy Russian!
Sex Ed Soviet Style
Party over, oops outta time!
Russian Healthcare in Moscow
What Russian Financial Crisis?
YE Prices in Russia
The Hungry Duck
Russian Caviar Mafia
Magical Mushrooms
Shhhh! We're Bear Hunting
Soviet Street Scams
Bez Dollarov
A Koshka Konspiracy
On The Dacha
The Banking Implosion
Surviving Army Life
Shashleek is Steak on Steroids
Dacha Thinking
Beach Weekend
Dos Vedanya
Hello from Vladivostok
Equality Means Only She Works
Jogging is an Extreme Sport
Russians Have Reunions Too
My Folks in Massive Moscow
Better than Fireworks
Miners Are Real Men
The Russian Mafia is the Roof
No One Smiles in the CIS
One Year Anniversary
Russian Brides Rock
Laura is My St Pete Connection
Change is in the Wind
Chuck Norris' Beverly Hills Casino
The Expat Woman's Predicament
Street Food is Yummy!
Spring Flowers Make June Leavers
The Provinces Are Provincial
Ever Take an Elektrichka?
The English Invasion
Nuttin Like New Money
Rules Are Made to Break
All Black is Russian Fashion
Easter Memories = Easter Dinner
Politics, Russian Style
Theresa Tries to Russify
I Go to Gay Clubs Worldwide
I Hide on Women's Day
New & Shiny: Nizhny Novgorod
Psst! Wanna job in Moscow?
Fili Park Has All the Bootlegs
Web Page Reactions
Take a Break at Dom Odaha
Expat Living in Moscow is Swank
Why Are You Remonting?
They Look Like Telephones...
In Need of a Decent Hairstylist
Smashing Bottles in Red Square


Russia, December 25, 1998

Santa Claus in Moscow

Yes, he even flies over Russia, only on Jan 7.

This is what the local alternative paper, The eXile, found when they called around here for advice on Santa's visit:

V 0 X P 0 P U I


Shoot the Santa!Santa Clans is coming town… or is he? How easy is it really for a fat Dutchman in a red suit to fly into Russia with a sack of undeclared toys? We called around to the various relevant bureaucracies and found them surprisingly cooperative in resolving the question of how easy it might be, for Santa Clans to compete in the era of reform capitalism with Russia's Ded Moroz.

Sergei Sonin, Press Spokesman, State Customs Committee
Sonin: Hello?
eXile: Hello, is this the Customs Committee?
Soifin: Yes, it is.
eXile: Hello, we're calling front the English-language paper, the exile, and we had an unusual question for you in connection with our upcoming Christmas holiday. Are you familiar with the tradition of Santa Clans?
Sonin: Sure, he's like Ded Moroz, only...
eXile: Only lie flies.
Sonin: Right.
eXile: The question is, you know, he flies in with this big sack of toys that he's supposed to he giving out to kids. My question is, if he comes in with that sack without going through customs and he gets caught, what will happen to him?
Sonin: (laughs) Well, we'd stop him, obviously,
eXile: How long would he be held up?
Sonin: That really depends on what he has on him. If there's no contraband material, then he just pays a tariff, then moves on.
eXile: Moves on home?
Sonin: No, moves on into Russia to do whatever he does.
eXile: What if he doesn't have a visa?
Sonin: Well, then, he goes back to wherever he came from.
eXile: Okay, let's say he has a visa. What sort of fine does he pay, if there's no contraband?
Sonin: It depends on the amount of material, and on, whether or not he exceeds certain weight limits
eXile: He's pretty fat.
Sonin: No, I mean with his goods. His personal weight doesn't really play a role.
eXile: What would be considered contraband material?
Sonin: Drugs, weapons, antiques...
eXile: So if kids write to Santa Clans asking for drugs and weapons, and he brings them, that's not allowed, right?
Sonin: I doubt that Santa Clans would bring weapons and drugs even if kids asked for them.
eXile: You never know. Times have changed. God knows what he'd do.
Sonin: Uh-huh. Who knows, actually.
eXile: Okay, well, thanks for your help.
Sonin: You're welcome.

Vladimir Uvadenko, Defense Ministry
Uvadenko: I think your question is more literary than military.
eXile: Okay, let's put it this way. If an unidentified object flies in from the North Pole, what do you do with it? Shoot it down?
Uvadenko: If we knew it were Santa Claus, we'd send up Babyagayvstupiy (Russian Fairy Tale Witch) to deal with him.. I don't think he'll get past her.
eXile: But no MIG's right? No military escort?
Uvadenko: This is all so unnecessary. Santa Claus is reputable, He can fly in safely, on a regular Boeing, if he wants.

Lyudmilla Laixkina, Press Secretary, Moscow Police (GUVD)
eXile: So, if Santa Clans flies into Moscow and is caught walking around the street, without a visa or a propiska, what happens to him? Will he be fined?
Lankina: Of course.
eXile: In what amount?
Lankina: Well, that... wait, Santa Claus is a foreigner, right?
eXile: Well, I would think so.
Lankina: Then you're asking the wrong people. You should call the UVIR (Visa and Registration Directorate). They're the ones in charge of this.
eXile: Okay, we'll call there. But still, the police play a role in this. I mean, he'd be stopped, in all likelihood, by a policeman.
Lankina: I think this is a stupid question.
eXile: Well, it's a humorous question.
Lankina: It's a stupid question!

Hard to argue with that. But it wasn't until we followed Lankina's advice that we found a bureaucrat who truly understood our question:

Vladimir Vladimirovich, Director of Foreigner Affairs, UVIR:
VV: This question isn't really relevant. If Santa Claus wants to come to Russia, he can apply to the relevant bodies, receive his visa and registration, and do whatever he likes here. We'd be happy to have him.
eXile: So there. would be no problem?
VV: No. But if you have problems with your own passports and registration, Please feel free to call us, and we'll clear them up.

Financial Times 29 December 1998

RUSSIA: Santa gets back to his roots

By John Thornhill in Moscow

Mr Luzhkov invited the red-robed, white-bearded Ded Moroz to ride through the city streets in a three-horse "troika" sled on Sunday and to light up a giant fir tree on Manezh Square beneath the Kremlin walls.

Mr Luzhkov said he wanted this to become an annual event. With typical swagger, he also resolved the contentious debate about where Ded Moroz lives for most of the year. Rejecting suggestions that the winter merrymaker came from Lapland, Mr Luzhkov asserted that Ded Moroz was a "real Russian" who hailed from Veliky Ustyug, in the Vologodskaya region in northern Russia. "He lives among absolutely enormous fir and pine trees in the land of Vologoda," Mr Luzhkov said.

The reassertion of Russian holiday traditions chimes well with Mr Luzhkov's claims to be the champion of national values. He has previously banned foreign words from local advertising, created a local challenger (Ruskoye Bistro) to the mighty McDonald's fast food chain, and asserted Russia's territorial claims over Crimea in Ukraine. Mr Luzhkov has also been trying to extend his political reach beyond Moscow to win new friends in the regions.

Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost, has suffered something of an identity crisis this century and is now much confused by many Russians with Santa Claus, a western interloper heavily promoted by foreign advertisers.

In Tsarist times, Ded Moroz's predecessors used to pop up at Christmas time, which, according to the old calendar still employed by the Orthodox church, is celebrated on January 7. But following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the Communist party banned the celebrations marking Christmas and New Year, consigning Ded Moroz to a cheerless exile.

After Stalin, the "best friend of all the children", restored New Year as a national holiday in 1948, Ded Moroz was reinvented as an ideologically correct do-gooder, who could be conveniently contacted through Zarya, the state monopoly for domestic services, which also controlled odd-job men and baby- sitters.

Accompanied by Snegurochka, his Snow Maiden assistant, Ded Moroz now appears at children's parties throughout the holiday season distributing gifts and fighting off Baba Yaga, the evil witch and habitual present snatcher. But Mr Luzhkov yesterday broke off from his attempts to win the hearts of Moscow's children to try to attract the votes of their parents by promoting the newly created Otechestvo (Fatherland) movement, labelled the new "party of power".

Los Angeles Times January 1, 1999

Russian Santa Suffers Identity Crisis Ded Moroz--Grandfather Frost--looks and acts a lot like St. Nick. But he's not.

By MAURA REYNOLDS, Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW--You might think Santa Claus has a tough job, what with flying all over the world in a single night and figuring out who's been naughty or nice. But these days, he has it easy compared with his Russian cousin, Ded Moroz.

Russia's big winter holiday is New Year's, and today is when Ded Moroz makes his rounds. By tradition, he has a somewhat more arduous job than Santa: He usually delivers gifts in person, and he has no brigade of elves to help, just a young girl called Snow Maiden.

This year, Ded Moroz faces extra troubles. For one thing, the country's economic crisis is casting a pall over moods and holiday buying. Ambitious politicians and regional developers are hijacking his celebrity to promote their own causes. And perhaps most critically, he is suffering an acute identity crisis that is partially Santa Claus' fault.

Claus or Moros?Ded Moroz, whose name means Grandfather Frost, has a snowy white beard and jolly red nose a lot like Santa's. But Russians say there are important differences. For instance, Santa Claus is fat, while Ded Moroz is sometimes thin. Santa wears a short red jacket and trousers, while Ded Moroz wears a long flowing robe that can be a number of colors, including blue and white. Ded Moroz carries a staff in addition to his sack of toys, and, while he sometimes rides a sleigh, it is pulled by horses, not reindeer.

Santa Claus or Ded Moroz?

Now, though, largely because of an invasion of imports, the bearded figure bedecking Russian storefronts and lampposts looks more and more like the trousered, imported Santa and less like Russia's beloved winter icon. At central Moscow shopping centers, images of Santa outnumber Ded Moroz by a hefty margin. "Technically, these are all Santa Claus," said Roza Zhuraviyeva, a salesclerk in the posh GUM department store who gestured to her display of trinkets bearing the image of the chubby, Western-style figure. "Of course, I'd rather sell our own national version. But this is all made in China, and they only know Santa Claus."

Some politicians, notably Moscow Mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov, have begun to promote Ded Moroz as a true symbol of the Russian spirit--in contrast to the non-Russian Santa, whom they consider crass and commercialized. "Take a look at our huge, handsome Ded Moroz," Luzhkov bellowed earlier this week after escorting Ded Moroz through central Moscow in a sleigh. "The puny Santa Claus is a far cry from him!"

Luzhkov even went so far as to claim that Ded Moroz doesn't live at the North Pole or in Finnish Lapland, as has long been assumed. Instead, he declared, Ded Moroz grew up right here in Russia, in a poor but pristine town about 450 miles northeast of Moscow named Veliky Ustyug. Luzhkov's idea, it seems, is to turn Veliky Ustyug into a tourist attraction that would bring trainloads of children from the capital and presumably generate profits as well as national feeling.

"It's a splendid northern Russian city," proclaimed Ded Moroz himself during a news conference called by the mayor. "Ded Moroz could have been born there. Why not?"

One reason the Ded Moroz myth is up for grabs is that it is far less developed than the Santa Claus legend, says Sergei A. Arutyunov, an expert on Russian anthropology. Despite Luzhkov's bluster, Arutyunov says, Ded Moroz is basically a pastiche based on the Western story of St. Nicholas. "Whatever differences exist between Santa Claus and Ded Moroz, they can't camouflage the main thing--there is nothing inherently Russian about Ded Moroz," he says.

Arutyunov explains that Ded Moroz began to appear in Russia in the late 19th century as one of a number of holiday trappings borrowed from the West. Then he was banned for a significant portion of the Soviet period as a "reactionary religious remnant." "Ded Moroz does not have a long historical and cultural tradition in Russia, and even the tradition that exists has been interrupted once or twice," he says.

Undaunted by such humbug, many Russians persist in believing Ded Moroz superior to Santa, and they insist on their preference at Lyudmila Rotan's costume stand inside GUM. "People usually ask specifically for Ded Moroz," Rotan said, pulling out a red-robed felt costume selling for about $30. "But at various times, we have celebrated Christmas and New Year's different ways. Personally, I don't think it's that important."

Boston Globe 9 January 1999

Yes, Katya, there is a Ded Moroz 'Grandpa Frost' can make miracles, blizzards in Russia

By David Filipov

THE DED MOROZ RESIDENCE, Russia - Outside the sauna room of the rustic wood cabin deep in the snowbound northern Russian forest, Maxim Schukin took a swig of sweet Moldovan wine and reflected upon the daunting task before him. Can he bring smiles to the faces of dozens of children and touch the hearts of their parents, every day? Can he instill a little hope, good cheer, and national pride in a land where both are in woefully short supply? And while he's at it, can he help reverse the fortunes of a poverty-stricken lumber town and turn it into a national tourist attraction?

It all becomes possible when Schukin, a twenty-something emergency-room anesthesiologist, puts on his white cotton beard, red cape, and hat - and becomes Ded Moroz, Russia's eight-century-old scion of winter. Ded Moroz, Russian for "Grandpa Frost," is equal parts Snow Czar and Slavic Santa Claus, capable of making blizzards and miracles. And Schukin, Russia's "official" Ded Moroz, plays the part convincingly.

While the Western St. Nick has ridden his reindeer back to the North Pole until next Christmas, Ded Moroz (pronounced, incongruously for English speakers, "Dead Morose") still has been working. Wednesday was the Russian Orthodox Christmas, and that meant another trainload of kids entertained at Ded Moroz's log cabin a few miles outside of Veliky Ustyug, a picturesque village perched at the confluence of three rivers in the dense taiga forest 500 miles northeast of Moscow.

Next week Russians celebrate the Orthodox New Year, and that should bring more youthful tourists and their parents to this remote place in search of winter holiday cheer. Why will they come all the way out here? Because this year, Veliky Ustyug, with a little prodding by a powerful Moscow politician and a bit of inventive rewriting of local legends, has declared itself the official hometown of Ded Moroz. Local entrepreneurs have turned a children's summer camp into Ded Moroz's official residence. And Schukin, a budding actor and a master sportsman, has become Russia's official Ded Moroz.

On a crisp, snowy afternoon Sunday, two days after the New Year's holiday when Russians exchange gifts, Ded Moroz hit the streets of Veliky Ustyug (pronounced "Veh-LEE-key OO-stoog") to greet children and grownups. He thrilled the (adult) kitchen workers at the town's only restaurant with a visit. He kept visitors warm with an impromptu sing-along under a Christmas tree, then finished it all off with a raucous sled party at The Ded Moroz Residence.

"I've done well today!" Ded Moroz boomed in his wintry baritone. He gulped down another mouthful of wine, smiled wearily, and headed into the official Ded Moroz Residence sauna. "Would that tomorrow be the same!"

The idea of turning Veliky Ustyug into a Russian Santa's village belongs to Moscow Mayor Yury M. Luzhkov, a presidential hopeful who thrives on populist campaigns to stoke national pride. In recent years, some Russians have expressed regret over the Westernization of their winter holidays, and especially the intrusion of the roly-poly Santa preferred by Western advertisers over the more angular Ded Moroz. Russians point out that Santa merely brings gifts, while Ded Moroz actually makes winter happen, too. Make Santa mad, and you get coal in your stocking. Cross Ded Moroz, and he'll freeze you. "You don't want to mess with Ded Moroz!" said Ded Moroz.

Sensing a new chance to make political capital, Luzhkov last month announced that Ded Moroz was not to be confused with the Western Santa from the North Pole or Finnish Lapland, but a "real Russian" who came from Veliky Ustyug.

Authorities in Veliky Ustyug set up a company, Ded Moroz Inc., and set about creating a legend that placed Grandpa Frost's arrival in Russia at Veliky Ustyug in 1148, a year after the town was founded. A sign reading "Welcome to Ded Moroz's Homeland" went up on the outskirts of town. Last week, local police issued a large, kitschy version of the internal passport all Russians are required to carry listing Veliky Ustyug as Ded Moroz's official residence.

Alas, Santa intruded here as well. The red-suited, white-bearded character in the document's "photograph" - in fact a cheap printout of a computer graphic - is holding a piece of paper that says, in English, "Santa's List." "You can imagine how upset I was," said Ded Moroz. "But what can you do? These days it's best to carry a document."

This is a sentiment shared by anyone who has traveled the road from Moscow to Veliky Ustyug. The highway is lined with checkpoints manned by gray-clad traffic police who routinely stop vehicles to make sure drivers' papers are in order. They represent only one of the obstacles faced by the tourist who would drive the icy, pot-holed trail through the taiga.

Getting here by train is not much easier - the ride from Moscow takes 24 hours. There are no direct flights. The locals say Veliky Ustyug's isolation is what saved its marvelous 17th- and 18th-century churches from destruction by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Once, thousands of tourists would visit Veliky Ustyug, not just for the town's architecture, but for its famous crafts - silver jewelry, shoes, and intricately carved wooden furniture. But like many small Russian towns, Veliky Ustyug has suffered a huge drop in living standards after communism. In fact, before Schukin became Ded Moroz, he hadn't been paid at his day job since August, except for a $5 end-of-year bonus.

In this town, the only business that has thrived is the huge lumber concern, Lespromkhoz, and that is only by stripping forests to sell timber abroad at such a rate that soon there will be no trees left, townspeople fear. "But if they don't sell all the timber they can, we will starve," says Yevgeny Udachin, who works in the lumber industry. Udachin's wife, Tatyana, is director of the Ded Moroz Residence. She hopes that tourism can lift the town out of the doldrums. Last weekend, the place was alive with adult tourists who had braved the bad roads and slow trains to see Ded Moroz.

Ded Moroz, meanwhile, was out of the sauna reading his letters. Russian post offices have agreed to send all mail addressed to Ded Moroz to Veliky Ustyug. The letters come in every day, and many are representative of the times. "A bike for me," writes 7-year-old Sveta, "and my Grandma's pension on time." "Please give me a new father," writes 4-year-old Masha. " Preferably a healthy blond who doesn't drink." But now and then Ded Moroz gets a message that makes him smile.

"Ded Moroz, I know you exist," writes 17-year-old Katya. "Because there is nothing wrong in believing in good things."

December 30, 1998, Reuters

Russians turn to sorcery for white winter holiday

MOSCOW - A coven of witches and wizards will try to use their supernatural powers on New Year's Eve to change Moscow's unseasonably mild weather and bring snow to the Russian capital, RIA news agency said on Wednesday.

It said the sorcerers would gather on Red Square in front of the Kremlin with barrels of ice-cold water which they plan to whack with their broomsticks. The flying water is then supposed to turn into snow with the help of various arcane rituals and spells, RIA said, quoting sources "close to the supernatural powers."

The witches and wizards decided to hold their meet after Muscovites complained of a big drop in temperatures, which has turned the capital's traditional snow into slush and puddles. New Year is the main winter holiday for Russians and is followed by the Orthodox Christian Christmas on January 7. Russians usually enjoy a white New Year and Christmas but in recent days temperatures in Moscow have hovered around zero Celsius (32 Fahrenheit). In November they dipped below minus 30C (minus 22F).

RIA said the witches and wizards had the backing of the Moscow city government and of Father Frost, the Russian answer to Santa Claus, and his assistant the Snow Maiden. The Russian weather service on Wednesday suggested sorcery might not be needed as they predicted temperatures of minus 10 C (14 Fahrenheit) for Thursday.

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