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Russia's Santa Claus, Grandfather Frost Holds A Press Conference

Dec 24, 2017
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RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

Santa Claus has a serious rival from Russia. He's also a jolly old fellow with a beard and a bag of gifts, only he flies through the night sky in a sleigh drawn by three horses. And he goes by the name Grandfather Frost. When NPR's Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim learned that Grandfather Frost was holding a press conference, he knew it was his journalistic duty to find out more.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: When I got there, the press center at the TASS News Agency was in the holiday spirit. Grandfather Frost took a seat at the front of the room wearing a long red cloak and a jewel-encrusted crown. Ded Moroz, as he's known in Russian, has a luxurious white beard and carries a long magic staff. At his side was his granddaughter Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden, who was wearing a light-blue dress, pearls and a fur-lined cap.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Russian).

(APPLAUSE)

KIM: My colleagues clapped when Grandfather Frost was introduced. That's because many of them were about 10 years old and very excited to be there. It was a day after President Vladimir Putin's annual press conference, and the first questions were political.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "Will you run for president of Russia," somebody wanted to know.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As Grandfather Frost, speaking Russian) Russian).

KIM: "What for," he replied. "I think my job is more important."

(LAUGHTER)

KIM: A little girl asked if Putin will get a gift.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking Russian).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As Grandfather Frost, speaking Russian).

KIM: "Absolutely," he said, but would not say what it is. During the course of the press conference, I learned that Grandfather Frost is more than 2,500 years old and actually gets cold when he's around bad people. For him, it's all about believing in good deeds.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As Grandfather Frost, speaking Russian).

KIM: "Any action begins with a dream," he said, "and without dreams, there can't be any progress." Grandfather Frost is truly the stuff of legend. He's a magician based on old Slavic myths and not on St. Nicholas like Santa Claus is. Traditionally, he also answers children's wishes around Christmas time. But after the Russian revolution 100 years ago, the Communists tried to ban Christmas by focusing the year-end festivities on New Year's Eve, a holiday that even atheists could enjoy. It just so happens that Boris Ryzhak, who's managed NPR's Moscow bureau for almost 20 years, once had a seasonal job as a Grandfather Frost back in the 1980s. He and his wife Masha, dressed up as the Snow Maiden, would visit families around Moscow.

BORIS RYZHAK, BYLINE: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Boris remembers how even babushkas would greet him as Grandfather, even though he was just a young.

RYZHAK: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: He says the biggest occupational risk was that everybody wanted to pour him a vodka or cognac and that some Grandfather Frosts had to be carried home by the end of their shifts. The Grandfather Frost who gave the press conference was perfectly sober, and he didn't blink when he got a question from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: I wanted to know what Grandfather Frost's relationship to Santa is and whether he has plans to visit America.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As Grandfather Frost, speaking Russian).

KIM: He said Santa Claus is a good friend and that they often meet at international conventions of winter magicians but that he doesn't have immediate plans to visit the U.S. Then he switched to English.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As Grandfather Frost) Happy New Year and merry Christmas, my dear friend.

KIM: Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.