On December 1st, the Russian and East European Center participated at the 17th Festival of Trees organized annually by the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana, an organization of women established in 1932 committed to developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. The Festival of Trees is an annual event for which sponsors put together themed trees, wreaths, and gift baskets. These are raffled or auctioned-off during the weekend. Proceeds are used for community grants and programs benefiting children and families in the Champaign-Urbana area.
At the Festival of Trees, children listened to the Russian fairy tale of Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden), sang the Russian song ‘Oi, Moroz, Moroz’ and made a Snow maiden fridge magnet. The daughter of Father Frost (the Russian Santa Claus) and Mother Spring, Snegurochka is believed to be the soul of the New Year. Always young, beautiful and smiling, she accompanies Father Frost on a sledge drawn by horses, visiting children and giving them gifts. The fairy tale tells a story of a man and woman who always regretted not having any children. Because in during one winter, they made a girl out of snow, Father Frost and Mother Spring decided to make the girl come alive and live with the man and the woman temporarily. They called her Snegurochka. Once spring arrived, however, Snegurochka became very sad and ultimately melted in the sunlight allowing the summer to unfold.
With roots in Slavic pagan beliefs, Snegurochka is a unique character in Russian folklore and an essential part of New Year’s celebrations. She has inspired Russian literature and children’s theatrical performances. She is also the subject of the play Spring Fairytale written by the Russian playwright Aleksandr Ostrovsky in the 19th c. and the opera Snegurochka, which Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov wrote based on Ostrovsky’s play. According to legend, Snegurochka lives deep in the winter forest. However, her modern place of residence is quite real – it’s the Russian city of Veliky Ustug, where she resides with Father Frost.
The Festival of Trees was a great chance to meet with children and parents of Champaign-Urbana’s diverse community. Thanks to the help of the organizers from Junior League of Champaign-Urbana, REEEC was able to entertain fifty children and adults, distribute Russian candy, and slip Snegurochka as a fairy tale and a fridge magnet into many hearts and homes. Next year we hope to repeat this experience!