Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winter Magic: Frosty and Snow Maiden

To me, this will never be a Christmas Tree. Neither do I refer to it as a Chanukah Bush. I will forever call it a New Year Yolka because my father and I used to put it up and decorate it on December 31st, the same as every other Soviet family – to say goodbye to the passing year and welcome the new one.

At midnight, as the last chime of the Kremlin bells died away, Grandpa Frost (Santa’s Russian counterpart) dropped by and left gifts underneath the yolka. Frosty wore a long fur coat and an ushanka – a hat with two earflaps. His beard wasn’t nicely trimmed but was rather long and a bit messy. He didn’t ride sleigh driven by reindeer but bravely walked through the woods, blizzards, and snow piles to deliver his often meager gifts. When he couldn’t get through by foot, he skied along, never losing his big over-the-shoulder tote. He traveled with his granddaughter, Snow Maiden, who was beautiful and delicate. She couldn’t stand any warmth whatsoever, so the two never stayed indoors for long. Since the majority of the Soviet population lived in apartments, plopping down the chimney was not an option, so the duo made their way in through the brick walls and the tightly sealed windows that didn’t allow any cold air leaks. It was magic. And it was wonderful.

New Year was my favorite holiday even though it took place in winter. It was too cold and I had to stay home a lot, but it was the one and only time in the whole year when adults agreed with children that magic existed. Every other time, they refused to even listen to any make-belief talk, but not on the last day of December. Miracles were allowed to happen. Imaginary characters were permitted to exist. Moreover, they were expected to visit!

School break lasted from January 1st to the 14th, and it was the time to have fun, inside or outside, if the weather permitted. Schools and theaters did New Year Carnivals for the kids that invariably included a horovod around the yolka: holding hands, we walked around a twinkling tree in circles, singing songs, and calling upon Frosty to arrive. Usually we were supervised by Snow Maiden, which made sense to me if the tree was out in the open, and a bit confusing if indoors. I wanted to stay true to the fact that Snow Maiden couldn’t last long at room temperature – but perhaps she wore ice packs underneath her fur coat. Summoning Grandpa Frost eventually worked – he would arrive halfway through the performance, not with a “Ho-ho-ho,” but a cheerful roar and a question: “Who’s calling upon me?” “Us!” we would shout back, eyeing his sack and bouncing in excitement. We had to wait for the coveted gifts: first there were word games, then came guessing game ,and sometimes even a few preliminary sports activities. When Frosty ran out of tricks, he’d toss his heavy tote on the floor, and we would crowd around it, trying to peek inside.

Frosty’s gifts didn’t differ much from one year to another: every kid got a paper bag of sweets, nuts, and occasional fruit, usually an apple or an orange. We pretty much knew what we would get, but we still had to peek inside the tote. At home, we all had similar nuts, caramel candy, and apples, but somehow Frosty’s tasted better. The sweet-toothed kids gobbled up the contents of their bags on the way home.

I saved Frosty’s sweets for a long time. Sometimes I kept them for months, hiding them in my dresser or even under my pillow. That way the magic stayed with me longer. Until the summer came, the snow melted, and I could run around the garden barefoot and climb the trees on which the apples were growing and ripening, slowly turning red like the ones in Frosty’s paper tote. Frosty must’ve had a huge apple garden, I mused. He needed a lot of apples for his paper bags.

I loved believing in magic, and I never understood why people couldn’t see it and sometimes deliberately ignored it. My whole city began to look like an enchanted winter wonderland at the end of December. A peculiar quietness settled upon it: maybe it was the special silence that the slowly twirling snow brought down onto the earth, maybe it was the white lacey blanket enveloping the buildings, or the icicles on roofs and windows that reflected the holiday lights, but by New Year’s Eve, every street glistened and glowed – from the garlands stretched overhead to the twinkles of frozen ice patches underneath our boots. It was as if my world was clothed in a diamond mesh, inside which magic could now blossom. I could see it in every snowflake that landed on my arm – a creation so perfect, only magic could do it.

Since those days I always tend to write stories about Frosty’s and Santa’s magic. Click here to read my most recent one in Beat to a Pulp.

1 comment:

  1. What a delightful Christmas tradition! I feel quite enchanted. And you're right, Lina, we all need magic in our lives, even (or especially) those who don't believe in it.