In some Slavic cultures, the traditional character Ded Moroz (Russian: Дед Мороз) plays a role similar to that of Santa Claus. The literal translation of the name would be Grandfather Frost, although the name is often translated as Father Frost.
Ded Moroz brings presents to children. However, unlike the secretive ways of Santa Claus, he often brings them in person, at the celebrations of the New Year, at New Year parties for kids by the New Year Tree.
The "in-person" gifts usually occur at organized celebrations at kindergartens, schools, circus performances around New Year time where the gifts can be "standardized." Various agencies provide Ded Moroz visits to families and offices. In such cases specific gifts can be chosen for particular members at the parties. The clandestine operations of placing the gifts under the New Year tree still occur when a Ded Moroz visit is not arranged for some reason.
Ded Moroz is commonly accompanied by Snegurochka (Russian: Снегурочка), or 'Snow Maiden,' his granddaughter. She is a unique attribute of the image of Father Frost – none of his foreign colleagues has a similar companion.
The traditional appearance of Ded Moroz has a resemblance to that of Santa Claus, with his coat, boots and long white beard. Specifically, Ded Moroz wears a heel-long fur coat, a semi-round fur hat, and white valenki or high boots (sapogi), silver or red with silver ornament. Unlike Santa Claus, he walks with a long magical staff, does not say "Ho, ho, ho," and drives no reindeer but a troika or just walks.
Initially Father Frost used to be a wicked and cruel sorcerer who liked to freeze people. He took after the Old Slavic gods: 'Pozvizd' - the god of wind and good and bad weather, 'Zimnik' - god of winter, and the terrifying 'Korochun' – an underworld god ruling over frosts. The peculiar character of those pagan gods determined the initial disposition of Ded Moroz – at first he stole children and brought them away in his gigantic sack. To ransom the kids, their parents had to give him presents. However, with the lapse of time, everything turned upside down: under the influence of Orthodox traditions Father Frost reformed, became kind and started to give presents to kids. Then he adopted certain traits from Saint Nicholas, the prototype of the Santa Claus.
His roots are in pagan beliefs, but since the 19th century his attributes and legend have been shaped by literary influences. He, together with Snegurochka, were "fleshed out" from a kind of a winter sprite into what he is now. The fairy tale play Snegurochka by the famous Russian playwright Aleksandr Ostrovsky was influential in this respect, followed by Rimsky-Korsakov's Snegurochka with libretto based on the play.
By the end of the 19th century Ded Moroz had become the most popular of the various mythical figures who were in charge of New Year gift bringing: including Grandfather Nicholas, Santa Claus, Ded Treskun, Morozko and simply Moroz. Ded Moroz perfectly fits the Russian traditions, so there is a widespread erroneous opinion that he has been known to Russians for centuries.
In 1916, in Imperial Russia the Holy Synod called to boycott Christmas trees as a tradition, originating from Germany (Russia's enemy during World War I). In the Russian SFSR and the Soviet Union Christmas trees were banned until 1935 because they were considered to be a "bourgeois and religious prejudice". In 1928 Ded Moroz was declared "an ally of the priest and kulak".. Nevertheless, the image of Father Frost took its final shape in the USSR: he became the main symbol of the New Year’s Holiday that replaced Christmas as the most favourite and fairy holiday in the pre-revolutionary Russia. The New Year's tree was revived in the USSR after the famous letter by Pavel Postyshev, published in Pravda on December 28, 1935, where he asked for New Year trees to be installed in schools, children's homes, Young Pioneer Palaces, children's clubs, children's theaters and cinema theaters. Postyshev believed that the origins of the holiday, which were pre-Christian in any case, were less important than the benefits it could bring to Soviet children. In 1937, Ded Moroz for the first time arrived at the Moscow Palace of Unions. In subsequent years, an invitation to the New Year Tree at the Palace of Unions became a matter of honor for Soviet children. The image of “Soviet” Father Frost was established by Soviet filmmakers in the 1930s. The color of the coat that Ded Moroz wore was changed several times. So as not to be confused with Santa Claus, it was often blue. Joseph Stalin ordered Palace of Unions' Ded Morozes to wear only blue coats. During the times of the Soviet Union's dominance over Eastern Europe, Ded Moroz was officially introduced in many national traditions, despite being alien to them. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, there have been efforts to revive local characters. Russia has other gift givers like baboushaka and kolyada.
Ded Moroz is quite popular in modern Russia. In 1998 town Veliky Ustyug was declared the motherland of russian Ded Moroz.
In Belarus Dzied Maroz is not a traditional character and is never mentioned in national folklore.
In socialist Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia the person who brought gifts to children was called "Grandfather Frost" (Croatian: Djed Mraz, Bosnian: Dedo Mraz, Macedonian: Дедо Мраз (Dedo Mraz), Serbian: Деда Мраз (Deda Mraz), Slovenian: Dedek Mraz). He brought gifts for New Year as celebration of Christmas was discouraged by the Communist regime.
After breakup of Yugoslavia, Djed Mraz was labeled communist and Djed Božićnjak (literally: Grandfather Christmas) was (un)succesfully introduced. In mass media and advertising Djed Božićnjak tried to take place of Djed Mraz, except for the timing of gift bringing: Djed Božićnjak brings presents on Christmas. After 1999 names of Djed Mraz and Djed Božićnjak are names more or less equally used fot the same person - including the public television. In some families Djed Mraz still brings gifts on New Year.
In Croatia, children also get presents on December 6. The present are brought by a traditional figure called Sveti Nikola (Saint Nicholas) who is also very close in resemblance to Djed Mraz or Djed Božićnjak, except for the fact that he is accompanied by Krampus who takes misbehaving children away.
In some religious families, little Jesus brings gifts on Christmas instead of Djed Božićnjak.
In Slovenia the name was translated from Russian as Dedek Mraz (literally, 'Grandpa Frost'). He is slim, wears a grey leather coat, which has fur inside and is decorated outside, and a round dormouse fur cap based on traditional imagery, especially as depicted by Maksim Gaspari. Initially he was said to live in Siberia, but with the Informbiro crisis and the schism between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union his home was relocated to Mt. Triglav, Slovenia's highest peak. The notion of Father Frost was ideologically useful because it served to reorient the December/January holidays away from religion (Saint Nicholas Day and Christmas) and towards (secular) New Year. After the demise of the Communist regime at the beginning of the 1990s, two other "good old men" (as they are currently styled in Slovenian) reappeared in public: Miklavž (Saint Nicholas) brings presents on December 6, and Božiček (Santa Claus) on Christmas Eve. St. Nicholas has had a strong traditional presence in Slovenian ethnic territory and remained celebrated in family circles throughout the Communist period. as it was December 25th. Until late 1940s some areas in Slovenia also celebrated Christkind called Jezušček (little Jesus) or Božiček (little God) who brought gifts on Christmas eve. Božiček is also the name for Santa Claus. Since the 1990s, Father Frost has started appearing during all of December and may top the gifts off on New Year's Eve. There are also family preferences according to political or religious persuasion. In public the three figures avoid conflict, and are even featured together, as friends. Popular culture has also started blending attributes of the characters – for example, mention of (Santa's) reindeer is sometimes mingled into the Father Frost narrative at public appearances. Due to his non-religious character and strong institutionalization, Father Frost continues to retain a public presence.
The traditional local name of Santa Claus in Bulgaria is Дядо Коледа (Dyado Koleda, "Grandfather Christmas"), with Dyado Mraz (Дядо Мраз, "Grandfather Frost") being a similar Russian-imported character lacking the Christian connotations and thus popular during Communist rule. However, he has been largely forgotten since 1989, when Dyado Koleda again returned as the more popular figure.
While there is no traditional analog of Ded Moroz in Polish folklore, there was an attempt to introduce him as Dziadek Mróz during the communist period. In the People's Republic of Poland the figure Dziadek Mróz was used in propaganda, since the traditional Święty Mikołaj (Saint Nicholas, the Polish Santa Claus) was determined to be "ideologically hostile", as part of the campaign against religion, which included elimination of Christmas in favor of New Year. Often officials insisted on using the figure in Polish schools and preschools during celebrations and events for Polish children, instead of Santa Claus in order to give impression of traditional cultural links with the Soviet Union. Despite those efforts, Dziadek Mróz never gained any popular support among the Polish people, and after the fall of communism he disappeared from Poland.
Moş Gerilă was, in Communist Romania, a replacement of Father Christmas (Moş Crăciun), being part of the Communist offensive against religion. His name is a Romanian language adaptation of the Russian Ded Moroz.
In 1948, after the Communists gained power in Romania, it was decided that Christmas should not be celebrated in Romania. 25 December and 26 December became working days and no official celebrations were to be held. As a replacement of Moş Crăciun, a new character was introduced, Moş Gerilă (literally "Old Man Frosty"), who brought gifts to children on 31 December.
In Tatar language he is known as Qış Babay/Кыш Бабай (Winter Grandfather) and is accompanied by Qar Qızı/Кар Кызы (Snow Girl).