Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Snegurochka: A Russian Fairytale for New Years

Sit down, get comfortable, and let me tell you a story.  Once upon a time...

"A long time ago in the forests of Russia there lived a peasant by the name of Ivan with his wife, Maria. Although they loved each other very much and had many friends, they were unhappy because they had no children.
They built a child made a snow.

One winter day, they watched the village children build a snowman. "Let's build a snowman, too!," said Ivan. And they proceeded to craft a pretty little maiden out of snow. Struck with their creation, Ivan said, "Little snowmaiden, speak to me." Maria exclaimed, "Yes, come to life so you can romp and play like the other children!" Before their very eyes, Snegurochka became a real girl. "I have come from the land of winter, ice and snow," said the little girl. She ran and hugged them. There was joyous singing, dancing and celebrating in the village that night. All that long Russian winter Snegurochka romped and played with the other children. Everyone loved her. She, Ivan and Maria were very happy.

Then one day, when the first signs of spring appeared, Snegurochka came to Ivan and Maria, and with tear-filled eyes told them that she must go away, up North to the land of snow. They begged her to stay. Upset, Ivan jumped up and shut the door to the hut so the snowmaiden couldn't leave, and Maria hugged her tight. But as she held the little girl, the child melted away. Ivan and Maria wept bitterly.
Sveta as Snegurochka

All spring and summer they were lonely. Summer turned into fall and fall into winter and once again it was cold and icy outside. One night a familiar voice was heard. "Mother! Father! Open the door! The snow has brought me back once more!" Ivan threw open the door and Snegurochka ran into their arms. All that winter she lived with them and played with the other village children. But in the spring she had to go back North, whence she had come. This time Ivan and Maria did not weep, knowing she would return once more when winter appeared on the land. And so it was that the snowmaiden brought warmth and joy to Ivan and Maria during the long, cold, Russian winter for many, many, many years."

With a little bird friend.
This was the very first tale of the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka), that I read.  I was instantly smitten with the tale and longed to learn more about fairytale, and especially find a copy of the book.  I'd recently made friends with Svetlana Isaulova from "way up north".  She'd purchased a couple of Wendy Lawton dolls from me, from dolls I was selling from an estate.  By the time she'd purchased a third doll, we wanted to get to know each other better, and decided to write to one another outside of Ebay.  The first time I wrote to her, I directed her to my website and blog since she was interested in my work.  In her letter back to me, she told me she knew me!  She'd been following my blog for several months.  She told me she was a seamstress, too, and was making a Snow Maiden costume for her doll Henriette.  Snow Maiden?  I had to look her up.  This is when I read the story and begged for more.

Beneath it all.
She told me that there were several versions of the Snow Maiden tale, and one of them was quite different than the child that melts in spring to return in winter.  The other is more of an adult tale of the granddaughter of Grandfather Frost and the Spring Goddess.  The beautiful young woman who came from snow was sought after by many a suitor for her beauty.  But, she could never love them back as her heart was made of snow.  One day she meets a man and falls in love, but when her heart "warms up", she melts away. 

There is also the story of the ancient Slavic pagan goddess Mara.  She is the goddess of Winter and Death, and most likely the predecessor of Snegurochka.  What tales were lost in Christianity, remain alive in the Russian fairytales.  Mara has many other names and can also be known as Marais, the Goddess of Frozen Rivers.

From behind.
I began researching images of Snow Maiden, and found beautiful Russian dolls of her, illustrations from books and greeting cards, paper dolls, lacquer boxes and commemorative plates.  Her image was even on a glasses case!  I knew I had to make my own little Snegurochka.  And so, together, Svetlana and I began to celebrate the New Year through Snow Maiden.  I'd recently acquired another 9" Lawton doll to reincarnate, and Simply Sarah became Sveta, my little Russian child.  Sveta means "light" and this seemed a perfect name for the doll I would dress as Snow Maiden.  While many versions of the winter costume are done in blue with white fur, I'd found this tri-image picture of an extraordinary doll with beads, laces and pearls, all in white, and wanted to make a less embellished outfit, but with similar elegance.  Sveta is only 9".

She learned to spin, sew and knit.
I designed the outfit from images of dressed dolls I had seen, and came up with a white silk gown trimmed in pearls and silver, with a shorter coat and Russian hat.  Sveta received new blue eyes and a golden blonde wig that I braided for her.  She holds a little bird in her hand like the adult Snegurochka would, as she was friends to all the wildlife in the woods.  This is why you see images of her with woodland creatures.

Sveta in the Summer Dress (Sarafan)
But, Sveta's costume did not reflect the Snow Maiden of the precious book in Cyrillic that Svetlana sent to me.  So I made one more costume for her to depict the child in spring.  I made the "summer dress" (Sarafan) as they are referred to in Russian, from a gold and aqua silk, and trimmed it with gold jacquard ribbon (that I made from gold floral spray - same technique I used for Daisy's last year New Year's costume).  A violet ribbon crowns her golden hair.  Although you cannot see, she is wearing mini valenki on her feet.  A gift from Auntie Svetalana.   Valenki are a Russian wool bootie.  Some are simply stunning in design.  I had to look these up, too.

I've had a love affair with all things Russian as a long as I can remember.  I've been learning so very much about Russian culture since becoming friends with Svetlana.  One of the interesting things I've learned about are their Christmas traditions.  For one thing, they do not celebrate Christmas as we know it.  During the October Revolution, Christmas was banned from Russia due its religious content.  It was then that they began to celebrate New Years as we would Christmas.  Around the 1930's, Snegurochka became a part of the seasonal characters along with the existing Grandfather Frost.  She is seen in parades with Grandfather Frost, children get Snow Maiden dolls for the holiday, and adult costumes can be purchased for parties.  She is loved, honored and treasured as much as our own Santa Claus. 

From Behind.
On the 30th or 31rst of December, the Elka, or "Christmas tree" goes up and is decorated.  Gifts are given the same as on our Christmas morning.  But, their New Year celebration begins in mid December.  Children in schools and in day care centers have performances, plays and concerts.  They call them "morning performances" or "fir tree".  Everywhere you go there is Grandfather Frost, Snegurochka and the Elka.

Catching the snow flakes.
So while the little ones in Russia are celebrating the days to New Year, Svetlana and I were sewing Snow Maiden costumes for our dolls.  She chose to dress her 16" Lawton Henriette as the pagan goddess Mara, or Marais, I wrote of earlier.  Because of this, she added "waves of silver" to the costume to represent the frozen river.  Amazing.  The work she did on the trim by wrapping each loop with silver threads or ribbon is awesome.  I've a detailed photo of it below.  She also made by hand, with wire and beads the beautiful crown the doll wears.

Its interesting to me to see how folk costumes are made in a different country.  The Russian soul, the depth of it, and the opulence of art and architecture exist throughout their poetry, their paintings, their fairytale books (Genedy Spirin of note), the ballet...and it simply goes on.  This enchantment seems to be run in their veins, passed down through generations.  As modern a country as Russia may be, the beauty and lore of old is held high and exists with the new side by side.  And, through the beautiful story of Snegurochka, a friendship was wrought.

Svetlana's Marais
Svetlana told me today that she has "Snow Maiden Mania", and I must confess the same.  Sveta will receive new outfits in the future, Ukranian or Russian in style, and Svetlana will guide me with their design.  I do strive for authenticity.

So in this second blog posting for New Year (do read the one prior to this as it was just written today), we celebrate the Russian New Year (Christmas) in Snow Maiden fashion.  If you've never picked up a book on Russian fairytales, you must!  They are fabulous.

Please enjoy the selected photos I posted from the near 150 I saved off for this celebration post.  And, Happy New Year!

Miss E. Mouse

Intricate work.

From Behind.

A pagan goddess with veil.

Mini Valenki

Russian jacquard from Svetlana's collection.

The ornament she gave me.

The ornament she kept.

Snegurochka and Granfather Frost

A friend of wooland creatures.

The stunning doll that inspired me.

In red like her ornament.

In paper doll form.

Lacquer Box

Fabulous illustration!

Commemorative Plate

A gentle maiden from a storybook.

The Russian Ballet

Sveta wishes you a  Happy New Year


  1. Thank you and thanks to Svetlana for the story and the additional images. I love folk tales and seeing dolls dressed in costumes based on those stories. (But not the Disney ones that have come to rule how Snow White or Cinderella should look!) Your little lady and Svetlana's girl are both beautiful.

    The tree decorations and the images you found are such a joy to see, too.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Happy New Year Jenni! And, just when I'm thinking of taking a break, my fingers are walking right over to the next pile of pretty silks. I'm with you. No Disney. I just purchased a Cinderella decorative plate that has her dressed in the early 1700's. I couldn't resist. Its gorgeous.