Fairytale Origins: Snow Maiden

The story of the snow maiden varies. In the original Russian folktale, a childless couple build a girl out of snow who is then magically brought to life and named Snegurka (snow maiden). All is well until some peasant girls invite her to play in the forest, they build a fire and the snow maiden melts. Alternatively, she melts due to the warmth of incoming Spring. 

A second version emerged in the 19th century when Aleksandr Ostrovsky, a Russian playwright, wrote Spring Fairytale based on a slavic pagan legend about the daughter of Spring and Father Frost. In this second story, the Snow Maiden is desperately lonely and becomes close to a shepherd boy. Her mother takes pity on her and gives her the ability to love, unfortunately the love for her shepherd boy starts to warm her heart and she melts. 

Over the years the two stories have often been amalgamated into one, the story of a snow maiden who comes to life after being fashioned out of snow and then melts after falling in love with a young man. It is possible that other stories have influenced this tale as there are a number of snow related myths in Europe. One such tale is that of an unfaithful wife who tries to convince her husband that she conceived a boy by swallowing a snowflake. Her husband pretends to believe her, but once the boy is old enough he sells him into slavery and pretends that the boy melted!

Stories such as these have grown up in countries where the winters are long and harsh, not just for entertainment but also as a nod to the power of the seasons. The coming of spring is an important and long awaited event. Spring heralds new life, animals are born, crops can grow, however the story of the Snow Maiden is also a reminder that for spring to come then winter must die. 

The original slavic tale also comments on the universal theme of living life to the fullest. The Snow Maiden chooses to live and love for a short time rather than spend her life alone in the shadows. It is a bittersweet tale, but one many can relate to. 

The Snow Maiden’s connection to Father Frost has also led her to become a symbol of Christmas and New Year in Russia. Father Frost is known as the Russian Santa Clause and Snegurka accompanies him, giving out presents to the children. In Russia little girls will dress up as the Snow Maiden for New Year celebrations, wearing white and blue winter clothing with a little white cap or hood.

If you want to read a recent adaptation of the snow maiden, December’s Book of the Month is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. You can see all of my Book of the Month picks here.

Sources:

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