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Father Frost has a special place on the DeVenny mantle.
The wooden figurine, carved from birch, reminds Susan DeVenny of her trip to Russia at the end of summer.
The Santa-like carving holds a miniature pine tree, and his robe is painted with a sledding scene with two children.
That reminds DeVenny of winters in Connecticut, sledding with her sister.
DeVenny, director of S.C. First Steps, bought her Father Frost in Uglich, Russia, a place famous for its clock and watch making.
Father Frost is based on a fairy tale about a woman who sends her stepdaughter into the woods during the cold of winter. The stepdaughter befriends Father Frost in the woods and she is kind to him.
He rewards her politeness and kindness with a chest full of beautiful things and fine garments.
"I had to have one with sweet eyes," DeVenny said. "The Russians don't recognize Father Frost as Santa Claus. He's a symbol of good cheer throughout the year."
DeVenny took a riverboat cruise with her mother, Wray Williamson, in August. Their two-week journey took them from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Williamson has taken each of her adult daughters to a different country.
After DeVenny and her mother left New York, they had no contact with anyone back home, no phone and no television.
They flew through Germany to St. Petersburg, and were brought to the boat. It wasn't a Carribean luxury cruise, but a frugal riverboat, more like a ferry. DeVenny, Willliamson and the other 90 or so passengers had small living quarters.
DeVenny said she learned a lot about St. Petersburg, one of the world's oldest cities, and about the czars and czarines in Russian history. She visited the fortress in St. Petersburg where the Romanov family rulers are buried. DeVenny said the fortress is a mecca that most Russians want to visit to pay their respects to the dead leaders.
The country is struggling with modern democracy, and there's a great disparity between the super wealthy and the poor, and a stream of immigrants coming into the country to make $4 a month cleaning the cities.
DeVenny and her mom took Russian cooking, language and history lessons while on the riverboat. A common ingredient in Russian cooking is vodka, as well as sour cream or butter.
"Vodka's in everything over there," DeVenny said. "They also use a lot of milk, cream and butter. No wonder everything tasted so great."
In Moscow, DeVenny and her mother visited the Kremlin and Red Square. They missed out on a tour of a mausoleum for communist leader Lenin, where his body is still on display today.
While DeVenny was immersed in Russian culture on a boat with a crew that spoke very little English, she still was able to share some of her culture, too. The crew live on the boat for six months – the time it can navigate the waters before winter, when it freezes over. They miss their families, so they spent time talking with passengers about their families.
"They asked me about 'American Idol,'" DeVenny said, with a laugh.
Russia has had a tumultuous history, with few times of peace. But DeVenny said the people there have a true love of their country.
"They're very proud of their history," she said.
Contact Jenny Hartley at 283-1151 or email@example.com