One Bartlesville couple shared what it was like to live in Russia during Christmas and New Year’s.
Harry and Mary Deathe lived in Russia for over four years from 2006-2010 when Harry Deathe worked for ConocoPhillips, which had a joint venture with a Russian company.
The small town of Naryan-Mar, located north of the Arctic Circle, where Harry Deathe worked during the week did not have adequate infrastructure for families and so Mary Deathe leased an apartment in Moscow.
At that time living expenses were very high, and they were given an allowance of $10,000 per month, which was eventually raised to $12,500 per month, for their apartment.
Asked about home heating, the couple shared that heat was a utility in Russia, and in Moscow it was provided with hot water through radiator heat.
“If anything, it would be too hot. We had no control over the heat. Some windows had a small top section that you could open up,” Mary Deathe said.
“People got to keep their apartments from Soviet times. Others who got wealthy bought larger places. There were very wealthy Russians and then everybody else,” Harry Deathe said.
Most people had apartments consisting of two bedrooms and their own or shared bathrooms and kitchens, he said.
“We were allowed to live in a Russian apartment, which was a pre-revolutionary apartment, likely somebody’s mansion at one time that had been converted into apartments,” he said. “There were Western apartments with Western conveniences — dishwashers, very large, well-appointed. Both apartments we had were over 2,000 square feet. We brought our furniture. It did fine. One table was broken, but they fixed it back better than it was.”
Mary Deathe said they received their furniture via one sea shipment and one smaller air shipment.
While living in Moscow, she began collecting Father Frosts, which she displays every Christmas at her home in Bartlesville.
“They’re all wood and are made from a single piece of wood,” Mary Deathe said. She had Father Frost with a team of reindeer custom-made with the skyline of Moscow painted on it.
The artists sold these at the markets or custom-made them, she said.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church is back, and they follow the Gregorian calendar, Harry Deathe said.
“So, the dates are different. Dec. 25 falls on Jan. 7. It’s two weeks different from the Julian calendar, which is what we follow,” Mary Deathe said.
Jan. 1-7 is when the Russians celebrate Christmas, emphasizing the birth of Christ, she said.
“They basically shut down, and they have about 10 days when everybody’s off work,” Harry Deathe said. “They’re very family oriented. When we went there, you’d be hard pressed to believe they didn’t celebrate Christmas.
“There are two department stores left over from Soviet times that had elaborate [Christmas] window displays,” Harry Deathe said.
The stores are called Tsum and Gum, he said.
“You hear American Christmas music in the stores,” Mary Deathe said.
“We got to see them embrace capitalism. There were quite a few people who were very wealthy,” Harry Deathe said. “One store had a carousel inside. It was their version of FAO Schwartz.”
In Russia instead of Santa Claus, their winter icon is “Father Frost,” they said.
Father Frost is called Ded Moroz, and he has a helper, his granddaughter, who is referred to as the “Snow Maiden.” She is usually depicted as a teenager.
Father Frost and the Snow Maiden bring gifts to well-mannered children on New Year’s Eve, Mary Deathe said.
“Russians have their celebrations mostly on New Year’s Day. The churches had cakes, tall, and not nearly as sweet as our sweets,” Mary Death said. “They had fruit in them.”
Christmas dinner is not the big meal it is in the U.S. So, Americans can go to the hotels for a Christmas meal served buffet style Jan. 1-7, Mary Deathe said.
“If you go to a Russian’s house anytime, you’d think 100 people were coming. There are all kinds of vegetables, pickled, things in savory gelatin, very bland. They didn’t use much spices in it. If they did, it was dill,” she said. “They often served pork.”
Another very popular food in Georgia is shaushlic, which is their version of the shishkebob. Shaushlic consists of marinated meat with lots of onions and garlic. The marinade is called morz. At the store for sale are plastic tubs of the meat already marinated and put in on the skewers, Harry Deathe said.
“It could be freezing cold, and they’d still barbecue outside,” he said.
In the small town of Naryan-Mar, where Harry Meade’s office was located, there was an annual Reindeer Festival with reindeer and snow mobile races.
“It was below zero and they were selling Cokes that had to be frozen,” Harry Deathe said with a laugh. “One year they didn’t run the reindeer because it was too cold and snow was blowing sideways, but that didn’t deter the rest of the partying.”
The couple wore down jackets, wool socks, parkas, used hand and foot warmers, and, when they left the house they always made sure they had their gloves, hat and scarf, Mary Deathe said.
“You never knew when you might be caught out in it because the Metro didn’t work and you had to walk,” she said.
Due to the cold temperatures, Harry Deathe was advised “to be very careful of falling ice cycles because they’d get so big they could fall and kill you.”
New Year’s Eve was celebrated in Red Square in a manner similar to New York City’s Times Square, the couple said.
“At the square they have an ice skating rink and a Christmas tree. Moscow is like New York City without the skyscrapers,” Harry Deathe said. “They had fireworks behind St. Basil Church over the Moscow River.
“One year our friends rented a room with a view of the fireworks. Our kids were there, and we watched it. It’s such a unique place. For us it was just so amazing.”
After their time in Russia the couple moved to Bartlesville. These days Harry Deathe is retired and ConocoPhillips no longer has offices in Russia or any joint ventures with Russian companies, he said.
He is content to spend time with his wife and family and maintain his historic home on Cherokee built in 1915 — one of the four featured on the Civic Ballet’s Tour of Homes.
To view their collection of Father Frosts, visit the Examiner-Enterprise’s website www.examiner-enterprise.com/.