Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Season in Kazakhstan

I know that there are many of you out there who have, your entire life, pondered the exact same question as I have: how could Santa Claus possibly make it around the entire world to deliver presents to every good little boy and girl in just one night?  If you take time zones into account he has about 24 hours of nighttime leading up to December 25th.  And if he crosses the International Dateline a couple times, which would magically teleport him forward or back a day depending on which way he crossed it, he could squeak in a few extra hours here and there.  Still, the logistics seem impossible.  But I have found the answer here in Kazakhstan!  Santa Claus, who goes by the alias Дед Мороз (Ded Moroz) here, doesn't deliver presents for Christmas.  That would be silly, since most of the population is Muslim.  Instead, he delivers presents to Kazakh kids on New Years!  So good ol' Santa can head back to the North Pole and rest and re-pack his sleigh for six days before heading out for round two.

New Years decorations and the security
guard in my building.
And Dasher, Dancer, and all of their friends have an even better deal: they only have to do the North America stint.  Santa re-hitches his sleigh with white horses for the second round.  This confuses the Kazakh kids who attend our school and can't understand why we're singing about reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh when everyone knows that it's white horses who drive the presents to them.

And North American kids get off easy, too.  All they have to do is be good all year long, and then fall asleep, and magically presents appear in their stockings and under the tree when they awake Christmas morning.  Maybe they leave out a cookie or two and a glass of milk, but relatively speaking, it's not a lot of work.  Kazakh kido's, however, have to work a bit harder for their gifts.  They have to prepare a song, poem, or a short story of some kind, and present it to Santa Claus.  Only then does Santa reward them with their gift.  Imagine the pressure!  What does Santa prefer - a song?  But I can't sing!  What if I write him a poem.  Does it have to rhyme? Santa's a bit intimidating.  I'm glad I was born in North America, and all I have to do is fall asleep to get my presents.

And here Santa has a sidekick!  No, it's not an elf - those are reserved for the North American jaunt.  He brings his niece or his granddaughter (that part got lost in translation), who makes fun of him.  I wonder if our Santa is even the same guy as the Дед Мороз character.  Дед Мороз is depicted as a really old, slightly senile guy who is easily bamboozled by this niece/granddaughter character.  The Santa that I grew up knowing was cunning, wise, and of sound judgment.  Perhaps that's why Дед Мороз doesn't have to make the notorious naughty-or-nice list, but just has to listen to a short poem and then dole out a gift.

A lot of the other traditions that we associate with Christmastime have worked their way into Kazakhstan's New Years.  There are trees decorated with lights everywhere.  Ornaments, red-and-green M&M's, and candles are for sale only this time of year.  I would like to see what happens on New Years day here!  Maybe next year - this year I'm headed to Italy to see about their Christmas and New Year's traditions!


  1. Have fun in Italy Tifin! I love your stories :)

  2. This is so interesting - thanks Tifin! And have a blast in Italy - sounds heavenly!