Monday, Mar 04 2024
All Cities
Choose Your City
'In Novosibirsk... you feel the same energy as in Moscow, New York or London'

Merry Christmas from the six 'Santas' of Siberia

By 0 and 0 and 0
24 December 2017


Seasonal greetings to all parts of the world marking Christmas Day on 25 December. Picture: Yakutsk.rf

That’s right, around Siberia we can count six different figures resembling Santa Claus who will be busy in many Western countries on Christmas Eve.

All our figures look elderly and have flowing white beards, like the Father Christmas who Western children know so well, and yet all are distinct. 

Many have long histories, possibly delving back to pagan times, but not all dress in red.

Several are accompanied by glamorous snow maidens as they go about their business.

Their expressions can be serious, and the cold daunting, but all of them aim to bring happiness and - more often than not - gifts to children who are well behaved.

Siberian Santas

All our figures look elderly and have flowing white beards. Picture: Satal Tour

Occasionally some or all meet for friendly conclaves, for example recently in Yakutsk - the capital of the world’s coldest inhabited region,  the magnificent blue-coated Chyskhaan handed over a crystal symbolising the cold to Grandfather Frost, the best known to all Russian children. 

As with other parts of Russia, Siberian children will not receive gifts this week, but mostly have to wait until midnight on New Year’s Eve. 

So who are our Santa figures? 

Grandfather Frost - or Ded Moroz - who often carries a magical staff and is frequently accompanied by his Snow Maiden - Snegurochka - assistant.

He is the one who looks most like the  Father Christmas so familiar to Western children, yet there are also key differences. 

For example, his busiest night is New Year's Eve with presents arriving at midnight as the clock strikes.

Father Frost

Grandfather Frost

Grandfather Frost

Over the years, Grandfather Frost has also resorted to the Metro, helicopter, trams and cars. Picture: Anna Permyakova, MR7, Pikabu

He often visits excited children in their homes or at parties before New Year's Eve, and since the end of Soviet times, he also appears in some flats and houses to mark Orthodox Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on January 6 and 7.

Usually, he is dressed in red but he is sometimes seen in blue or very occasionally white. 

His traditional mode of transport is a sleigh pulled not by reindeer but white horses. Over the years, he has also resorted to the Metro, helicopter, trams and cars.

Clambering down chimneys is not for him.

Father Frost on Baikal

Father Frost and Snegurpochka walking along Baikal. Picture: Alexander Morozov

His appearance in blue is believed by some to be the work of Stalin, who deep in the Soviet era felt he needed the winter tradition of Santa - abandoned with the Bolshevik Revolution - but wanted to distinguish it from the bourgeois Western variant, who was unkindly branded 'an ally of the priest and the kulak (wealthy peasants)'. 

Traditionally, in deep history Ded Moroz wandered around the forest, controlling the frost, bringing presents to the good, and punishments to the bad. 

Unlike Santa, Grandfather Frost gives his gifts openly when he arrives with a big sack of presents. Typically, children need to show him how good they are, often reciting a poem or singing a song before he hands over the gifts, assisted by Snigoruchka. 

He lives not at the North Pole but in the town of  Veliky Ustyug, in northern Russia, well shy of the Arctic. 

Fathers Frost, Yamal Iri and Santa go to Chyskhaan

Siberian Santas

Siberian Santas

Some of these colourful Russian figures meet for friendly Santa summits, occasionally in a real ice cave hewn in permafrost, as our picture show. Pictures: Planeta Yakutia, Satal Tour

It is here the Russian Post Office delivers his mail, but with this being such a large country, he has regional residences, for example at Royev Ruchey Zoo in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. 

Grandfather Frost's birthday is November 18, the coldest day ever recorded in Veliky Ustyug. 

The glamorous Snogruchka was originally a character from ancient fairy tales who became part of the Christmas ritual in the late nineteenth century. She remained when Stalin permitted Grandfather Frost to return two decades after the Russian Revolution. 

Children in Russia's largest region, the vast Sakha Republic, also known as Yajkutia, are also familiar with the magnificent blue-coated Chyskhaan, aka the King of the Cold.



Magnificent blue-coated Chyskhaan, aka the King of the Cold and his Sow Maiden Khaarchana. Pictures: NVK Sakha, Alex Cheban

Every year, in late September and early October, he makes his way south from the Arctic Ocean. 

'And with his every step comes cold,' tells native Yakutian, Olga Stepanova. The region can sink below minus 60C.

At his annual meeting with Grandfather Frost, he hands over the cold each winter. 

He has two horns, by legend one from a bull, the other from a woolly mammoth. 

'Then at the end January his first horn falls off, and in middle February his second horn,' she explained. 

Crystal of cold

Crystal of cold

Chyskhaan passes cold to Father Frost

Kids on the X-mas tree opening in Yakutsk

Kids on the X-mas tree opening in Yakutsk

At his annual meeting with Grandfather Frost, Chyskhaan hands over the cold each winter.  Pictures: Yakutsk.rf

As the snow melts, he floats back to the Arctic in the Lena River before the ritual is repeated the following winter.  

Yet another Santa-like figure is also seen in this region, the coldest in Russia. This is Ekhe Dyyl, who shares a granddaughter, called Khaarchana, with Chyskhaan. 

She likes to play with children but can only do so around New Year - the time when presents are exchanged. At other periods, she wears a hat that makes her invisible. 

The bearded Ekhe Dyyl rides a bull, and carries a sack of presents, while Khaarchana goes around on a reindeer called Buur. 

Sagaan Ubugul

Sagaan Ubugul

Sagaan Ubugul or White Elder who has a white beard, and carries a stick with a dragon's head. Pictures: The Siberian Times

Elsewhere in Siberia, in the Buddhist republic of Buryatia, midwinter cheer for children comes from Sagaan Ubugul or White Elder.

He has a white beard, and carries a stick with a dragon's head. 

His duties fall later than the others since byb tradition the New Year is celebrated according to the lunar calendar in late January or early February. 

He invites children and adults to Lake Baikal - the oldest and deepest lake in the world - and the gifts he bestows are health, love, family and wealth to the deserving.

To children he gives candles and sweets. 

Sook Irey

Sook Irey

Sook Irey from Tuva can be accompanied by Tugeni Eneken - Mother Winter from Evenkia. Pictures: Sergey Tarasenko

Then in the southern Siberian republic of Tuva is a Santa-like figure who is able to fly over the rooftops. Unlike in the West, he doesn’t have a sleigh or reindeer but Sook Irey flies to houses and yurts bringing gifts to children at New Year.

'His body, arms, legs consist of ice,' according to one description. 'He looks cold and tired. 

'His hair, eyebrows, and beard covered with white frost like all the trees and bushes. His clothes are white, blue, reminiscent of the ice.'

His head wear has 'solar and lunar colours' nd signs indicating his extraterrestrial origins.

Yet while he looks old and worn, he can turn into a young man or beautiful girl, as the mood takes him.

'But he can not warm anyone. He can only freeze,' according to the Tuva Legend of Creation. 

He can be accompanied by Tugeni Eneken - Mother Winter from Evenkia.

While most owe their origins to old traditions, Yamal Iri - who rides a sleigh pulled by reindeer and dresses in blue - is a much newer creation.

Yamal Iri

Yamal Iri

As well as presenting gifts to children, he spreads positive energy and brings midwinter happiness. Pictures: Governor of YANAO

He started presiding over Christmas in the gas-rich Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous region of northern Siberia as recently as 2007.

His character is, though, based on old legends and he arrives with a drum made from reindeer skin to drive away evil spirits. 

As well as presenting gifts to children, he spreads positive energy and brings midwinter happiness. 

He lives in the Arctic, at Gornoknyazevsk village,  near the city of Salekhard, on the bank of the Ob River. 

His traditional costume and boots are made from reindeer skins and his belt decorated with bones from woolly mammoths. 

Comments (5)

This article was wonderful! The pictures are beautiful, the costumes are amazing and the story is magical! Thank you for sharing this with us!
RGee, Arkansas/United States
28/12/2020 21:38
Nice article, beautiful pictures.
A P Mohanty, India
06/01/2018 11:40
Lovely stories, beautiful pictures. A little late, but Merry Christmas and best wishes for a Happy New Year.
Beverly Banting, Dundas, Ontario, Canada
28/12/2017 07:00
great story.never mind that i had (catholic) Christmas yesterday,24th December, evening. a great article that goes far beyond never mind where you come from or of what faith yo uare.! merry Christmas to ALL of you!!!!!
Benedikt MORAK, Moscow
25/12/2017 10:18
Great story ! I never realised there were so many Santas! What a rich culture in Russia...
Sam, Cologne
24/12/2017 11:37

Add your comment

We welcome a healthy debate, but do not accept offensive or abusive comments. Please also read 'Siberian Times' Privacy Policy



Add your comments

The views expressed in the comments above are those of our readers. 'Siberian Times' reserves the right to pre-moderate some comments.

Control code*

Type the code

* obligatory



The Bank of Russia official exchange rates of foreign currencies