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A Russian Passport for the Tooth Fairy

There is no Tooth Fairy in Russia.

Or at least, there wasn't during Communism.

Galina moved to the United States when her daughter was one and a half. Fortunately her daughter warned her about the Tooth Fairy, whom she said gave presents. Stickers or whatever. Galina said she never got anything when she was little, and her daughter asked, "well what did you do with the teeth," and Galina said, "I threw them out," and she said, "well that's why you never get anything! You have to put them under your pillow!"

One year her daughter lost a tooth down the sink drain. She cried all night and went to sleep broken-hearted because there would be no present from the Tooth Fairy under her pillow. But when she woke up, the Tooth Fairy had left a present for her in the sink!

One year Galina's daughter's father took her to Russia and left her with her grandparents for the summer. Galina had to call up her ex-in-laws and hastily explain to them about the Tooth Fairy, who did indeed come...or at least, her Russian cousin came! That summer the Tooth Fairy stickers had Russian writing all over them.

In Soviet Russia religion of all flavours, including Christianity, was frowned upon as poison for the masses. Which is not far wrong. And as such, there were no Christmas Trees. There were, ahem, New Year's Trees. For Jews like Galina's family as well. Those New Year's Trees looked an awful lot like Christmas Trees, decorated with ornaments and tinsel. And let us recall that in Russia Christmas comes on January 7. After New Years'.

They have their own version of Santa Claus. They call him Father Frost. He has a long blue or red robe and a long white beard. He has a big bag of presents slung over his shoulder and their sleigh is drawn by three horses (or it could theoretically be reindeer if you really wanted, Galina said; "they're not very particular"). -- He goes around with his granddaughter, an ice maiden who is made out of snow, a teenager, 15 or 20, with a long pale braid and blue eyes made out of ice. The reason they have to do their gift giving in the winter is because otherwise she would melt.

In Russia the magical beings are very practical. There is none of this prancing around on rooftops. They come to your house in person and knock on the door and give you gifts and dance with you. Unless Mom and Dad are too poor to afford paying people to come dressed up, in which case, yes, they come when the children are sleeping.

The unavoidable humanity of the costumed gift-givers was part of the Big Giveaway for little Galina. When she was five she wanted a car or wagon or some kind of wheeled conveyance to put her dolls in, and she was sitting on Father Frost's knee and he was asking her what she would like, and she thought, "he is a magical being, he should KNOW what a child wants." But to be polite she hemmed and hawed, and he said, "Well little girl, would you like some skis?" And she thought, "no, I absolutely would not like some skis, the last thing in the world I would want, how could a magical being not know that," and he pulled the skis out of his bag and gave them to her and she hid her tears. And just then her aunt brought a bag of taffy out of the kitchen and put it in Father Frost's bag for Father Frost to bring back to the Snow Maiden, and that was when Galina knew. "What are you doing?" she said! "The Snow Maiden does not eat *taffy*, she eats ICICLES!"

And that was how she knew.

You can never go back from such knowing.

I looked at pictures from a Russian childhood, over mint tea, homemade applesauce, and homemade cranberry sauce with walnuts and cloves. They did not have a camera, Soviets did not, so pictures were rare things. When Galina was a baby, the only photos they had were when once or twice a year one might go to the professional photographer's studio and get a picture done. Gradually, a friend or so might give them a picture as a gift.

There is a picture of Galina as an extremely Russian looking baby with slanty eyes, bundled up, in her father's arms, and her father is wearing one of those big Russian fur hats. Her mom is wearing a head scarf and a coat with a fur collar. You can't make this stuff up. Now that I've been there, these fashion statements make perfect sense.

There is a picture of Galina at seven, squirming and crabby under the weight of three great big heavy bright red beautiful gladiolas, because every September 1, the first day of school, is Teachers Day and all school children have to bring flowers for their teachers and it's not a question of just bringing one flower, no, every child brings a whole bouquet, the whole country is just a sea of flowers. (That day and March 7, Woman's Day, she said, which matches what I had already heard, about all the men and boys buying flowers for women on that day, all women--a nice tradition and I wish we had such a thing here.)

And now I'm going to sleep under a Russian blanket, 3/4 covered by a white cotton cover with lace edging and pink flowers embroidered on it, with a hole in the middle for the blanket. They do it the same way in Japan.