Abandoned for Christmas! How has this happened? My daughter has taken Thalia to visit other relatives for the season. Part of me is glad that she is taking more interest in her progeny, but what about my Christmas without Thalia to hang her stocking at the foot of her bed?
The plot against me thickens when I realize Melissa, Augustus, and Duckworth have all gone off to visit family members. It is a relative conspiracy, I think. Ultima is of no use to me on this holiday. She and all her people have dragon familiars, and religion died out a long time ago in her world.
I will not be defeated. In October, I made my Christmas pudding. Yesterday, I bought all the ingredients for my Yorkshire pudding. (Why are they both called puddings when they are nothing alike?) I had to draw the line at the minced pie. I can only eat so much. Today, I went out and bought a Christmas tree, very small since I had to carry it home. I plan to read The Night Before Christmas to the brownies, the fairy, and Johannes on Christmas Eve. That is an oldie but goodie, American though it is, and maybe something else.
I now venture to the third floor to find my box of Christmas decorations. I can’t help noticing snow drifting from beneath the storage-room door.
Is there a window left up?
I open the door and am pulled into a wintery Russian landscape. It must be Russia because the crone sitting on a tree stump beckoning to me is, by her traditional headscarf, none other than Babushka. Despite my age, I sit at her feet in the snow like a two-year-old.
“Let me tell you the story called Jack Frost,” she says.
An old woman had a daughter and a stepdaughter. One day, she demanded that the old husband take his daughter out and abandon her to die. The father did not have the will to disobey his wife and took his daughter out on his sledge. Making the sign of the cross, he left her to die in an open field without any covering.
Jack Frost came saying, “Maiden, maiden, I am Jack Frost the Ruby-Nosed!” She answered, “Welcome Jack Frost! God must have sent you to save my sinful soul.” Jack Frost, touched by her gentle words, took pity and gave her a fur coat.
He approached her a second time in the same manner, and she answered him as before. He gave her a coffer filled with things for her dowry. On the third visit, he gave her a magnificent robe.
Meanwhile, the old woman prepared the funeral dinner and ordered the husband to bring back the corpse. The little dog under the table prophesized the stepdaughter would return in glory and no suitor would want the old woman’s daughter. The old woman fed the dog pancakes to cajole him into saying something other, but the animal would not change his tune.
When the stepdaughter did return in glory, the old woman commanded her husband to take her daughter out to the very same spot and leave her there to attain her dowry. Jack Frost approached the girl but hearing no kind words, killed her.
Again, the little dog predicted the end, and the old woman fed him pancakes to make him say something to her liking. Soon her husband returned with the frozen corpse of the old woman’s daughter.
As the story ends, the light fades, and the snow disappears along with the winter landscape. I find myself sitting in front of the box of Christmas ornaments that I’d come for.
Fairy Tale of the Month: December 2022 Jack Frost – Part Two
I contemplate Babushka’s story as I trim my Christmas tree, taking out the ornaments one-by-one, old friends that come around once a year.
At first thought, Jack Frost is full of the usual tropes. Certainly, the evil stepmother is the most common of all. But as I think about it, the tale has its unusual aspects, its own feel as it were.
The weak and/or disappearing father figure is in the story but in its most extreme form. Often, as in Beauty and the Beast, the father brings disaster upon his daughter then disappears from the story. Another version of the weak/disappearing father is in Hansel and Gretel, where the father follows his wife’s advice to abandon their children to save themselves from starvation.
In Jack Frost, the wife directs her husband to expose his daughter to the elements for no other reason than her dislike of the girl. He has not the will to oppose her.
I have in my hand Thalia’s favorite ornament, a flat, cardboard cutout, very colorful, printed on both sides, depicting a Santa stuffing a naughty little boy into a sack. She never liked little boys. I hope that does not change too quickly. I hang the ornament with a sense of longing.
What occurs to me is that fairy tales containing the weak/disappearing father image exist in all European countries, which are male dominated. Isn’t this bad PR for men? Why do they put up with it? I have two, somewhat opposing, notions about this.
The first notion is that these fairy tales reflect the unrecognized reality that common women in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries—the time period in which our current fairy tales were being conceived—held greater status than has been recorded. They bore as heavy a workload as the men. If their husbands were off fighting in a war, enlisted or drafted, they bore all the workload of raising a family.
Among the upper classes, women seldom held property and were almost considered chattel. All the legalisms concerning women’s rights probably applied to them in that male-dominated sphere. The peasantry, male and female, were chattel. They, being equals at the bottom of the heap, could have quite a different relationship with each other than members of the royalty.
I now hold in my hand a spider ornament made out of pipe cleaners. I believe this may have been some school art project foisted upon Thalia. I know there is a German tale about a Christmas spider, but no arachnid will grace my Christmas tree. I put it back in the box.
My second notion about the weak/disappearing father is that it is intended to be a cautionary tale. In other words, this is what happens if a man leaves his wife in charge. They will make bad and cruel decisions. They do not have the moral fortitude of men. Etc.
Our young heroine achieves her new status by being subservient and humble, as a woman should be, and not controlling like the old woman. Of one thing I can be certain, I will not try to defend this position with Melissa.
I pick another ornament out of the box. It is one my wife bought in a charity shop. It is a blown-glass bulb, hand painted, inscribed with the name “Esther.” We never had a clue who Esther may have been, but the bulb meant something to someone at some time. Therefore, we honor her every year. The bulb goes on my tree.
And what about that little dog under the table? Talking animals are familiar, but this particular scenario I have not run across before. I cannot help feeling the little dog is not so much prophetic as it is playing the role of the super-ego. That would make the old woman the id, and the unfortunate husband the ego. I could toy with that idea.
The last peculiar bit of this story is that it does not end in marriage, as those of this type usually do, when the girl on her own is found by a prince. Rather, there is the acquisition of a dowry that assures a good marriage. Not romantic but practical. I wonder if that is not a Russian touch?
Coming to the end of the box’s useful contents, I now hold an angel in one hand and a star in the other. Which one should crown my tree this year?
Fairy Tale of the Month: December 2022 Jack Frost – Part Three
“Is Jack Frost originally a Russian folk character?” I ask the hearth, where I have started a fire, pulled up my comfy chair, and settled down. To me, Jack Frost is English. Rising again, I get my laptop out of the closet. Usually, my questions are addressed to Thalia. She then takes her “oracle” out of her pocket and finds the answers. That is, if she is not talking on it, which she does more and more of late. After plugging myself in, I soon come across the following jumble of information.
The tale Jack Frost comes from the nineteenth-century collector Aleksandr Afanas՜ev, now compiled in Russian Fairy Tales. However, different translators have labeled the story Father Frost, or King Frost. In Russia, there is also a Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz), who is really a Santa figure. All this does not give me much clarity.
As far as origins go, that is no clearer. Just about every mythology has some deity or deities connected to the cold; even sunny Greece (Khione and Boreas). The temptation is to connect Jack Frost with the Viking “Frosti” and his brother “Jokul,” sons of Kari, a wind god. Their names translate to “Frost” and “Icicle.” However, scholars see no connection between them and our Jack Frost.
The spritely Jack Frost that we know appears to have come out of the early nineteenth century. He is elvish and mischievous but not to be feared as is the character of our Russian tale. The English Jack Frost will nip your nose, cheeks, and ears but nothing worse. He is also assigned to paint the leaves on trees with their fall colors. I stumbled across a painting by Maxfield Parrish of Jack Frost at this task, the work labeled as a self-portrait.
Jack Frost often appears in popular culture. For example, L Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902). In the 1940s, there was a comic-book series called Jack Frost, put out by Timely Comics, later named Marvel Comics.
There are two movies called Jack Frost. One is a sentimental story about a father who during his lifetime neglected his family. Upon his accidental death, he returns in the form of a snowman named Jack Frost, to help his young son. There are two notable items about the film. Three of Frank Zappa’s children have roles, and it was a box-office bomb, grossing about half of what it cost to produce.
The second production, critically panned but achieving a cult following, was a black-comedy, slasher, direct-to-video film. A serial murderer named Jack Frost is being driven to his execution in the fictional town of Snowmonton, when there is a collision with a “genetics” truck. The genetic material causes Jack’s body, lying in the snow, to mutate into a killer snowman.
Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman has a family of ravenous snowmen attacking tourists on a tropical island. The director threatens a third film to be called Jackzilla. So far, we have been spared.
I suppose this is a study in what can happen to a popular icon or fairy-tale character. Santa may have started with Saint Nicholas, a third-century Greek who became a bishop in Myra, Turkey. Around him gathered a number of tales about gift giving.
The Dutch version of this saint was Sint Nicolaas, which became SinterKlaus and was anglicized in America to Santa Claus. Clement C. Moore (or was it Henry Livingston Jr. as some suggest) in his Twas the Night Before Christmas, made him a plump, jolly, old elf dressed in fur and driving a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. Coca-Cola, in 1931, codified Santa as being fully human in size, decked out in a red suit with white trim, bereft of the long cloak of previous Santa illustrations.
I close down my laptop and put it back in the closet. It crossed my mind to Google “Slasher Claus.” I am sure it is out there, but I don’t want to know.
Rather, I settle back in my comfy chair, clearing my mind of all that silliness, and consider the deeper meaning of Christmas by contemplating the star on the top of my tree.