IN our series on Saturnalia/Yule customs ... in Russia Grandfather Frost and his sidekick the Snow Maiden are pushing Jesus out of Christmas ... and generating an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Tomorrow night, Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost, will act as compere at hundreds of Russian New Year's Eve parties.
At one shindig, rumored to cost $500,000, he will descend from a helicopter laden with trinkets from Tiffany's in his sack.
Alarmed that Russians were embracing all things Western ... including Christmas ... after the fall of communism, the Kremlin launched a concerted campaign to bring Ded Moroz back from the verge of obscurity.
He was given back his magical staff, his flowing fur-trimmed coat and his assistant, the snow maiden Snegurochka, a Stalinist invention of the 1930s, and sent out on to the streets.
Snegurochka is a unique attribute of Ded Moroz ... no traditional gift-givers from other cultures are portrayed with a female companion, though the German analog Sankt Nikolaus comes with a Krampus and the Dutch analog Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas, who wears a bishop's mitre and vestments) has Zwarte Piet ("Black Pete") a young Moorish attendant/companion.
A few years ago, despite widespread protests that he lived in the North Pole, the government installed an official Ded Moroz in the remote town of Veliky Ustyug, north of St. Petersburg. Subsequently, he acquired a winter residence in Moscow.
A government committee is writing his official biography, which claims he has been part of Russian myth for 1,000 years, rather than a 19th century import from Germany.
The historical revisionism seems to be working. Santa Claus has been eclipsed, with just six per cent of Russians celebrating Christmas Day, down from a high of 19 per cent only a few years ago.
The Russian Church is unhappy too. Orthodox Christmas, commemorated on Jan 7, remains very much in the shadow of New Year's Day.