Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov Invents Fairy Tale for Ded Moroz

Ded Moroz, Russia's red-suited symbol of the New Year, now lives in the impoverished northern Russian town of Veliky Ustyug - by decree of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

The sudden change of address is bound to baffle people who learned in their childhood that Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost, lives at the North Pole or, at the very least, in Lapland, a northern region of Finland.

Not any more, say officials in Veliky Ustyug, 800 kilometers northeast of Moscow in the Vologda region, who have big plans to turn Ded Moroz into a local tourist attraction. They have ensconced the portly, white-bearded fellow in an official residence on the outskirts of the city, managed by the Ded Moroz joint-stock company.

There are plans for a theme park, and Moscow and regional authorities are also considering the construction of a highway through the regions with high-quality hotels and service stations.

"Our nature is so beautiful here. We have wonderful untouched forests. There are also monasteries, churches and traditional crafts, which could be shown to visitors," said Valentina Zhuravlyeva, an official from the tourism department of the Vologda regional administration.

Tamara Suranova, a Veliky Ustyug city administration aide, said, "We need money here. Our region is very nice but a bit far to get to."

Asked by a reporter what historical claim there was for Ded Moroz to be from Veliky Ustyug, Suranova said, "You are a journalist. You must know, when there is an idea, legends are born around it."

The new Veliky Ustyug Ded Moroz has already managed to pay an official visit to Moscow, where he was announced Sunday by Luzhkov on Manezh Square. Ded Moroz cheered the crowds of selected children and drove with Luzhkov to City Hall on Tverskaya Ulitsa on a sleigh pulled by a troika of black horses to attend the limited-access Ded Moroz reception.

What appears to be a rather strange choice of address was in fact part of a carefully thought-through plan, Zhuravlyeva said.

She said the idea was born last year when Luzhkov went to Vologda and Veliky Ustyug, which were then celebrating their 850th anniversaries just as Moscow was. The idea to turn Ded Moroz into a local industry, Zhuravlyeva said, belongs to both Luzhkov and Vologda governor Vyacheslav Pozgalyov.

It was still unclear Monday what benefits Moscow might get from changing Ded Moroz's propiska, or residence registration, to Veliky Ustyug. Officials at the Moscow Mayor's office said Monday that in the long run there were also plans to tie Veliky Ustyug in with other tourist routes whose main destination is Moscow. Luzhkov is expected to run for president in 2000 and has actively sought support from officials in the provinces, where his standing is weaker than in the capital.

Other Ded Morozes seemed to have taken the relocation news coldly. "We always tell and always will tell children that Ded Moroz lives in Lapland," said Anna, who answered the phone at a company which runs a Ded Moroz on-call service.

The tabloid daily Komsomolskaya Pravda sniffed at the idea, saying, "It seems that even those who sent him there do not know why."

And Luzhkov's innovation is not likely to be accepted in Lapland. "The real Santa Claus lives in Finland - everybody knows that," a high-ranking Finnish diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said with a laugh.

Ded Moroz is a Soviet-era hybrid of the pagan Russian spirit of frost and Western Santa Claus. He was a key figure in Soviet New Year's celebrations. In the early 1920s propaganda street theaters even portrayed Ded Moroz as having a noticeable resemblance to Soviet leader Leon Trotsky. Many Soviet kids grew up thinking that Ded Moroz lived either somewhere beyond the Arctic Circle or in Lapland.

His dress differs slightly from Santa Claus', since his robe can be blue or silver and is ankle-length. He is also often accompanied by Snegoruchka, a female figure who often is nowhere to be seen when Ded Moroz arrives and has to be called forth by the cries of the children.

Adding new details to the New Year celebrations has been a tradition for Russian rulers. It started with Peter the Great, who almost 300 years ago forced Russians to celebrate the New Year together with Europeans on January 1 as opposed to traditional festivities held in September. Common folk were to decorate their houses for the occasion, with penalties for failing to comply.

The Soviets, too, added their finishing touches, changing from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Later the authorities attempted to abandon the New Year celebrations altogether, but reinstated them as a way of measuring progress toward the achievement of communism.

To get all the details just right, a delegation from the Vologda administration had to travel from the depressed northern city to scenic Rovaniemi in Finland, home to Ded Moroz's Western cousin, Santa Claus.

"They even tried to conduct some talks there on cooperation between Santa and Ded Moroz but, of course, were totally ignored," said Andrei, who answered the phone at the Ded Moroz company but wouldn't give his last name.