What were we negotiating? Deciding on gender neutral translations for a highly gendered language? Precision vs readability?
In fact, it was the annual children's party, and the question he threw in my lap was how to translate the name "Dedek mraz" in the invitation, "because there are many different good men delivering gifts in December."
I am a purist. I voted for the literal name: Grandfather Frost. Because that's who was coming.
Grandfather Frost is the communist answer to the saintly Nicholas or decadent western Santa. He has his origins in Morozko, the stern, often deadly god of frost and ice. No ho ho ho here. As far as my research can tell, there is no clear-cut story of his transformation from Slavic god to gift giver. Labelled a demon by the Orthodox church, legends of Morozko grew and developed over the centuries (here is a popular one), until Dedek mraz eventually became a useful figure for the soviet regime, diverting attention from Saint Nicholas and Christmas with his New Year's gift-giving.
His name and appearance vary across Eastern Europe. In Slovenia, he is dressed in pale robes, with a dormouse fur hat (here I have to pause to say that Slovenian dormice are large creatures, not the tiny ones you might think of).
Nowadays, instead of freezing maidens to death, in Eastern slavic countries, Dedek mraz is sometimes accompanied by his grandaughter, the snow maiden Snegurochka.
Coincidentally, I just read a retelling of the Morozko legend involving the Russian folk heroine Vasilisa the beautiful, The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden. If you like your fairy tales dark, I recommend it.
And the party? I was afraid Alcuin would be scared, but the education students warmed up the audience with a cute play about a mouse who lost her house. Then they got the children to chant for Dedek mraz, and by the time he appeared, gift bags in hand, Alcuin was ready to leap over and grab his loot. He was so quick, this is the best photo I could get.
Indeed, many good men have come gift giving. We modestly celebrated Saint Nicholas Day on the 6th, and we'll have the traditional December 25 visit from Father Christmas, with a final present from the Wise Men on Epiphany. I think our new Slavic tradition is going to go down well in our household.