Today is Russian New Year’s and one historic practice in Kodiak will get a modern interpretation. Masquerading is a combined Russian and Alutiiq tradition where people go disguised from door to door, challenging neighbors and friends to guess who is behind the mask. Many elders on Kodiak Island remember the tradition from their childhoods, like Rosabelle Morrison Baldwin, who grew up in Kodiak in the 1930s when it was a much smaller community.
“When they’d masquerade when I was a little girl, it used to scare me terrible, because they’d put any old thing on. And typically there were [these] flesh colored masks that were formed over the face and it was wire mesh, so in order not to be seen, they’d put a cloth bag over their face, over their head, with a cut-out for eyes and nose and mouth.”
She says they then put their masks on over that. And once they’d covered every patch of skin, they’d go door to door.
“No knocking because you’re expecting them, and they’d go around and look in the cupboards, they’d poke you in the nose, they’d pull your hair, just do things mischievously. And of course, when you’re small and they’re coming at you, it’s scary.”
But there was a moment Morrison Baldwin says she looked forward to.
“We had dance hall where that night there would be a big dance, and a lot of things going on until midnight, and then midnight everyone would unmask and my mother would let me stay up until then, and that was the fun part to see who was behind all of these clothing and coverings up and everything.”
Anjuli Grantham is the curator of collections and exhibits at the Baranov Museum and says masquerading is a long-standing tradition.
“That has transpired in Kodiak for centuries. We could say longer than centuries when we’re thinking of the Alutiiq tradition of masking. However, the Russian Orthodox tradition of masquerade kinda combined with the Alutiiq masking tradition for the Russian New Year’s celebration.”
She says Ahkiok has a masquerade, as does Kodiak, but the tradition has changed since earlier years. It’s evolved into celebrations like the upcoming Masquerade Ball that the Elks will host at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Elk’s lodge. Tickets are $15, and there will be food, dancing, and music. Costumes and masks are optional.