With 12 days to go until Christmas, I’m still not feeling particularly festive. I’ve yet to put any decorations, gifts for family and friends still only exist on a list written on a scrap of paper, and today was a grey, rainy day. I’ve been quite preoccupied, with a job interview this morning, and only now, sitting with a glass of wine in front of the television, that I’ve realised just how close it is! So over the next 12 days, I thought I’d find out what people in other parts of the world do at Christmas time, whilst I catch up with my preparations.
A report on the BBC news website caught my eye, stating that Santa Claus has been banned from TV screens in Tajikistan. I know very little about Central Asia in general, although I do know the capital cities in the region will generally get you a great score on Pointless. A former Soviet republic, with a majority Muslim population, I wouldn’t have thought that Christmas, particularly as I’d recognise it, was something that was widely celebrated there.
Indeed the Father Christmas-like figure mentioned in the report, is known as Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz in Russian or Boboi Barfi in Tajik), visits homes on New Year’s Eve with his companion Snegurochka (Russian) or Barfak (Tajik), the Snow Maiden, to give presents to children. He wears a long, fur-trimmed coat, sometimes red, sometimes blue, and walks with a magical staff. Sometimes he drives a sleigh pulled by three wild horses.
Celebrating the New Year (Soli Nav) with gifts, decorated fir trees, and a mysterious old man with a white beard, was a widely embraced tradition during the Soviet era. Boboi Barfi was viewed as a secular figure; the traditional practices of Islam, Christianity and Judaism suppressed by the Soviet state. In more recent times, Boboi Barfi has become more closely-linked with the figure of Santa Claus, and lost the broad appeal he once had.
Whilst the “ban” in the report is said to be more of a decision to reflect the culture of the majority of the population in television broadcasting at this time of year, the symbolism of Boboi Barfi has become more contentious in recent times. In 2012, a young man dressed as the figure was beaten and stabbed to death by a crowd, reportedly the victim of a religiously motivated attack.