Orthodox Christians began observing the Christmas holiday over the weekend. It begins with "starring" – a 200-year-old tradition thought to have originated from Ukrainian missionaries and still embraced by Alaska Natives. In Kodiak, the festivities began Friday at the Holy Resurrection Cathedral before winding up inside private homes. KMXT’s Jacob Resneck joined the procession.
— (starring xmas pkg 3:59 "Inside Kodiak’s … I’m Jacob Resneck.")
amb – prayer
Inside Kodiak’s Russian Orthodox cathedral, a young man holds the colorful eight-legged star. It’s adorned with a Russian Orthodox icon at its center and spins on an axis as the congregation sings.
Before the faithful set out, Father Innocent Dresdow reiterates the central place that the star takes in the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.
amb – procession
The procession winds its way up Mission Road. The first stop is the Orthrodox seminary. The star continues to twirl as the crowd packs into a tight space singing songs in English, Alutiiq and Old Church Slavic called Slavonic. Tables covered with steaming hot food awaits the singers for when they finish.
amb – aluttiq song 2
I pull Father Innocent Dresdow aside to ask about the origins of starring.
The story of the star is shared in all Christian denominations but here it takes a central place with attention focused on its twirling colors as the old songs are sung.
The starring tradition often lasts for three nights. But in some communities the whole village participates, says Yako Pavila, a seminary student from the Kuskokwim village of Tuntutuliak.
And, he says, starring will last as long as it takes for every home to be visited.
— amb all ye nations
Kodiak’s villages continue to have strong starring traditions. Elders in attendance speak of gigantic stars taller than a man and bouts of singing that lasts for many days.
— amb slavonic
But back to the symbolism of the star itself. It has eight legs though no one could say whether this number held any significance in the tradition.
The procession continued into the Alutiiq Museum and then into private homes where lavish spreads await hungry singers. In Kodiak it’s a weekend affair but out in the bush, it will likely continue into the rest of the week.
I’m Jacob Resneck