Mammoth Santa. Picture: TRK Severniy Veter
But then Siberia also has no less than SEVEN real Santa figures, and you can meet them all here
The 10-metre bronze statue of an extinct woolly mammoth that greets visitors to the town of Salekhard – straddling the Arctic Circle – has been dressed up as a giant Father Christmas.The idea was the brainchild of a local kindergarten student who drew a picture of the landmark dressed as Santa.
The tusked giant wears a huge red cap with a tassel of artificial fake fur, and a bright mantel, also decorated with fur, designed to sustain temperatures as low as minus 40C. The festive clothes took 150 metres of fabric, 40 metres of fake fur, and days of work.
It took more than a month to make the costume and then adjust it – and the mammoth was given two fittings to make sure it looked right.
The festive clothes took 150 metres of fabric, 40 metres of fake fur, and days of work.ammoth Santa. Pictures: TRK Severniy Veter
Regional governor Dmitry Kobylkin said: ‘A child in a kindergarten made this drawing of a mammoth dressed in festive clothes.
‘Somebody brought the drawing to the administration.
‘We thought it looked creative, unusual and interesting. So with a help of businessmen we made a mantel and a cap and dressed the mammoth.
‘I think it looks unusual, and helps people to get into a more festive mood.’
Merry Christmas from the world’s largst Santa. Pictures: TRK Severniy Veter
The mammoth Santa made its debut last year, but in fact Siberia has a rich history of traditional figures to bring midwinter cheer to the cool side of Russia.
All have flowing white beards, and several are accompanied by a beautiful assistant. Their outfits are not always red.
Best known across the entire country is Grandfather Frost, or Ded Moroz, who often carries a magical staff and is frequently accompanied by his Snow Maiden – Snegurochka in Russian – 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.
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.
Grandfather Frost with his assistant Snegurochka (Snow Maiden). Pictures: The Siberian Times
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, trams and Ladas in extremis.
Clambering down chimneys, though, is not for him.
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’.
Traditionally, in deep history Ded Moroz wandered around the forest, controlling the frost, bringing presents to the good, and punishments to the bad.
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
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 Velikiy Ustyug, in northern Russia, well shy of the Arctic.
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 Velikiy 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.
Magnificent blue-coated Chyskhaan, aka the King of the Cold and his Snow Maiden Khaarchana. Pictures: Victor Li-Fu
Children in Russia’s largest region, the vast Sakha Republic in Siberia, are also familiar with the magnificent blue-coated Chyskhaan, aka the King of the Cold.
Every year, in late September and early October, he makes his way south from the Arctic Ocean to the diamond region of Sakha, also known Yakutia.
‘And with his every step comes cold,’ tells native Yakutian, Olga Stepanova. The region can sink below minus 60C.
At an annual conclave 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.
As the snow melts, he floats back to the Arctic in the Lena River before the ritual is repeated the following winter.
Sagaan Ubugul or White Elder who has a white beard, and carries a stick with a dragon’s head. Pictures: The Siberian Times
Yet another Santa-like figure is also seen in this region, the coldest in Russia.
This is Ekhe Dyyl, who shares a granddaughter 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.
Another of the Siberian ‘Santa’s’ is Sagaan Ubugul or White Elder who is seen in the Buddhist republic of Buryatia. He has a white beard, and carries a stick with a dragon’s head.
His duties fall later than the others since 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 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 from Tuva can be accompanied by Tugeni Eneken – Mother Winter from Evenkia. Pictures: Sergey Tarasenko
In the southern Siberian republic of Tuva is a Santa who – like the Western variant – is able to fly over the rooftops.
There is no sleigh nor any 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’ and 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 cannot warm anyone. He can only freeze,’ according to the Tuva Legend of Creation.
He is often accompanied by Tugeni Eneken – Mother Winter from Evenkia.
Kysh Babayi from Tatarstan is often accompanied by Kar Kyzy – his Snow Maiden. Picture: Kysh Babayi residence
On the Western fringes of Siberia, in the largely Muslim regions of Tatarstan and Bashkiriya, is the preserve of the magical figure of Kysh Babayi, dressed in blue and seen by some as a brother to Ded Moroz.
He is accompanied by Kar Kyzy – his Snow Maiden – but also by a veritable collection of others, notably golden haired Altynchech – a female warrior; Takhir and Zukhra, described as a Tatar Romeo and Juliet; Ubyrly Karchyk, an old and scary woman; Shurale, a spirit from the forest; Shaytan, the embodiment of evil; Azhdakha, a flying dragon; and Batyr, a strong man.
Like Ded Moroz, he distributes presents as the New Year dawns.
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 lives in the Arctic, some 15 kilometres from the city of Salekhard. Pictures: The Siberian Times
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.
Yamal Iri lives in the Arctic, at Gornoknyazevsk village, some 15 kilometres from the city of Salekhard, on the bank of the Ob River, scene of the mammoth Santa.
His traditional costume and boots are made from reindeer skins and his belt decorated with bones from – appropriately – woolly mammoths.