After a year of unprecedented food shortages, bare store shelves and long lines, can it be that even the Russian version of Santa Claus will be carrying an empty sack?
Da, humbug.Shoppers complain bitterly that they cannot find the toys their children so desperately want for New Year's Day - the gift-giving holiday most Soviets celebrate instead of Christmas.
On the morning of Jan. 1, Soviet children will wake up early and receive their presents from Ded Moroz, or "Grandfather Frost," a jolly old white-bearded elf similar to Santa Claus.
But the Evening Moscow newspaper wrote this month that the Soviet economy was so bad, "not even Ded Moroz, with his magic powers, can solve the shortages, and his sack may be empty."
In the selection of toys at Detsky Mir, the cavernous, five-story children's store adjacent to KGB headquarters in Dzherzhinsky Square, there's not much that would hold a child's interest for long.
There were lots of inexpensive crude plastic items, such as lambs, elves and rabbits best suited for playing with in the bathtub, simple trucks and cars, toy guns, tambourines and small toy soldiers for sale. There seemed an oversupply of toy men with headbands and spears in a box marked simply "Indians."
But there were no battery-operated toys or electronic games, and no dolls for sale, even though some were displayed in the store's huge picture windows.
Marina, a 30-year-old Muscovite who wouldn't give her last name, was near tears as she explained her desperation in a store corridor.
"There are absolutely no presents for children," she said. "I have a daughter and two nieces and I wanted to buy New Year's presents for all three of them, but I couldn't find anything."
"My daughter is 7. She wants a Barbie doll," Marina said, her voice breaking with emotion. "I am ready to pay 100 rubles for a Barbie, but it is impossible to buy it even for 100 rubles. I feel very bad about it.
One hundred rubles is more than a week's salary for an average Soviet worker.
Olga Kirianova, who has sons aged 9 and 4, said her oldest child wanted a tabletop hockey game from Grandfather Frost, "but I can't find it for him."
"I was here a couple of days ago and there were no toys at all in the whole shop," she said.