The personification and the main symbol of the New Year in Russia for many years has been and still remains Father Frost. In Europe, Christmas presents are delivered to children by his so-called “brother” – Santa Claus. Though these characters have one and the same prototype – Nicholas of Myra.
Saint Nicholas of Myra lived in the 3rd – 4th century AD and was a bishop in the city of Mira in Asia Minor. According to annals, the saint resurrected the dead sailor, saved the unjustly condemned from execution, appeared in a dream to a merchant of bread, and ordered him to direct his ship to the shores of Mira, that time suffering from hunger.
The bishop also secretly helped the poor. Once coins thrown by him either through a window or into a chimney of a house of a needy family accidentally got into a stocking – and thanks to such a gift, three sisters were able to get married. In the Middle Ages, German and Dutch children began to put shoes out and hang stockings on the fireplace in anticipation of gifts from St. Nicholas.
With Russia, St. Nicholas had a special relationship. People endowed the saint with pagan power of the ruler of land and water, they prayed for the harvest. In the event of war, they sought protection from Nikolai Ugodnik: the original Russian image of St. Nicholas of Mozhaisk depicts a saint with a sword in one hand and a fortress in the other.
Nicholas’ days were widely celebrated in Russia, but the tradition to give children gifts on behalf of the saint did not exist. Nicholas came to Russia in the 19th century thanks to German immigrants. In 1929, the USSR was officially banned from celebrating Christmas. On the eve of 1936, it was decided to hold New Year trees, and the familiar Santa Claus appeared – a former Father Frost (in Russian called “Ded Moroz”) with the features of a hero of Russian folk tales Morozko. A year later, at the celebration in the House of Unions, the Snow Maiden (called “Snegurochka”) first accompanied him.