Christmas Conundrum: Ded Moroz or St. Nick?

Vita has met the man in the red robes with the long white beard twice now. First at the Obraztsov puppet theater, where she gave him a look of horrified incomprehension -- not surprising really when you train your little ones not to talk to strangers and then thrust them into the arms of the weirdest looking man they are ever likely to meet. However, since he gave her chocolate she was far more forthcoming when she met his reincarnation a week later at the Toddlers' Gym.

But when you're dealing with a bicultural child, who exactly is this man? Is he Ded Moroz (Father Frost), as Papa keeps telling her? Or is it Mama's Father Christmas?

Which raises yet more issues, like when does he visit? Will he pop in during the night of Dec. 24 to 25 to stuff the stocking full of goodies? Or will he appear on New Year's Eve?

Most importantly -- how is he going to get in? Everyone knows that Father Christmas drives his reindeer through the sky and sneaks down the chimney, but the only chimneys in Moscow are the ones that belch out pollution from the city's countless environmentally dodgy factories.

Sasha, having agreed to a Dec. 24 visit, said the man in question could just come through the front door, onto which we would pin the stockings. No way, said I: a) The stocking has to be at the end of the bed for when you wake up, and b) Father Christmas, as is perfectly well known, does NOT waltz through the front door like any other mortal.

So we scoured the apartment and found that the ventilation duct in the kitchen might serve as a sort of chimney, but we still haven't resolved the question about what he will eat. In England he is left a mince pie and a glass of milk. But can you see Russian Ded Moroz settling for that? Maybe a shot of vodka would be more appropriate, with a plate of pelmeni?

And since she attends a Russian kindergarten where her little playmates will get a New Year's visit, does Vita, by nature of her dual nationality, get a second round of presents then? This obviously smacks of spoiling the child as well as begging the moral question: Is her Christmas going to involve the birth of Jesus? You don't have to be a fanatical Christian to believe that the season of presents should nevertheless be about giving and goodness along with the fun and feasting.

Even if Sasha, a proper Soviet atheist, agrees to a little religious instruction on the grounds that he is also Russian-nationalist enough to accept that before the revolution it was ever thus, we're still going to have to decide: Was the Messiah born on Dec. 25 or Jan. 7 -- Russian Christmas day?