Ded Moroz helps Russian/Slavic community celebrate the New Year

You haven’t heard of ‘Ded Moroz’?  Read this story, and find out about his relation to Santa Claus – and the New Year …

This Novyy god celebration at the Midland Library features both Ded Moroz, or “Grandpa Frost”, and Santa Claus.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The Russian and Slavic communities arrived at the Midland Library on January 12 in large numbers to celebrate Novyy god – the New Year.

This New Year’s Day celebration in outer East Portland was actually two days early – according to the Julian calendar, which observes it on January 14.

The library’s large meeting room was packed, as more than a hundred children, their parents, and grandparents, celebrated with the help of two costumed characters who appeared to both be Santa Claus.

Lisa the Fox, a character in the play, portrayed by Lana Darling, shows Multnomah County Library Assistant Natalya Bokov that she has snitched the “Golden Key”.

“This performance is typical of what would be put on for large gatherings, or at large child care centers [in the old country],” explained Multnomah County Library Assistant Natalya Bokov.

The resurgence of Russia in the early 21st Century brought about a renewed emphasis on the Slavic character of Ded Moroz, translated as “Grandpa Frost”, Bokov explained. The Russian Federation and subordinate governments sponsor courses about Ded Moroz every December, with the aim of establishing appropriate Slavic norms.

Ded Moroz’ daughter “Snegurochka” tells the audience what will happen next in the program.

“The well-known play includes Ded Moroz, his granddaughter and helper Snegurochka (Snow Maiden), and forest creatures including Lisa (“fox” in Russian), Bokov told East Portland News.

“But, because a lot of the children were born in the United States and know a lot about Santa Claus, this dramatic group also includes him in the program too. This way, the children learn to distinguish between Ded Moroz, who wears a semi-rounded fur hat, and Santa, who doesn’t – so they get to have two holiday characters to enjoy!”

Led by Ded Moroz, all of the children join in a line dance that snakes through the auditorium.

So, as the program takes place, Ded Moroz looks on – while Santa Claus encourages the kids to sing “Jingle Bells” along with him in English.  Other characters lead traditional songs in Russian.

“In Russia, the biggest holiday is New Year’s Day,” Bokov said. “Christmas is more a day religious – a liturgical holiday. Some families in Russian and Slavic countries are starting to celebrate the Western Christmas, but it’s not as big as New Year’s.”

These puppets tell part of the story about how woodland creatures are also trying to find the missing golden key.

The well-choreographed program continues with a puppet shows, short sing-alongs in Russian, and play activities, like line dances.

All the while Lisa the Fox, delightfully portrayed by Lana Darling, sneaks, prances, and dances through the crowd, then hunkers down, encouraging little children to join.

“Lisa the Fox” asks the children to look around for a golden key that’s been “lost”.

“Lisa is indeed the coy one,” Bokov said with a knowing smile. “She has the most interesting part, and fun part, I think. While we don’t follow the traditional play exactly, Lisa ‘steals’ the golden key that fits the lock of the treasure chest where Grandpa Frost keeps the children’s presents. The characters get the children helping to find that missing key, as part of the play.”

Yes, they’re having a “snowball fight” inside Midland Library.

As part of the program, Midway Library hosted a first – an indoor snowball fight!  At one point in the play, characters got out mounds cotton ball puffs, which stood in for snowballs, and the white stuff went flying.

It’s important to have an event like this, Bokov said, to bring Russian community members together.

“I believe that it’s important for the Russian community have events where they feel ‘at home’ and feel welcomed. It’s also an opportunity for families to enjoy a program together.

“But perhaps most important is that this is a fun way for kids to learn about the culture of the parents,” Bokov opined. “It helps teach children who have been here for a while Russian, and connect with the culture of their heritage as well.”

At this point in the program, it’s Santa Claus who gives out treats to the good little girls and boys.

It’s not just the kids who enjoyed the program, put on this year by a group called Blizkiye Druz’ya (“Trusted Friends”). As many of the adults and elders in the audience sang along, tears welled up in their eyes as they smiled. “It’s a little bit of home,” one of them quietly said.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland New

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