A family at a starring gathering in Afognak village in 1960. Photo courtesy of the Knagin family
Today is Christmas for the Russian Orthodox Church, and part of that celebration includes carolers who journey from door to door carrying a brightly colored, spinning star. The star, which represents the Star of Bethlehem, is one of the Christian symbols that mix in with Alutiiq traditions, including feasting and singing songs.
Alutiiq Museum Executive Director April Laktonen Counceller says that song is called “Many Years,” a phrase which often serves the same purpose as merry christmas.
“And it’s sort of a greeting and a blessing and a well-wish that is common in the Alutiiq community. You’ll say amlertut kiaget, which means many years, and it is a phrase that is in a lot of the Russian Orthodox liturgical Christmas music, because you’re wishing the other person to have many years of life.”
She says the starring ceremony has become a tradition at the Alutiiq Museum.
“Just because so many of us, even if we’re not a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, we just feel the power of that tradition and how special it is for the families, and my family traditionally was Russian Orthodox. My great-grandfather was a church reader in Karluk and I can imagine my family members generations going back practicing this tradition.”
Counceller and curator of collections, Marnie Leist, explain that one person spins the star during the ceremony.
“And it’s usually done by men only,” says Leist. “A lot of children end up spinning the star.”
“Yeah, nowadays, the tradition is changing a little bit,” says Counceller. “Traditionally it was that women were never supposed to touch the star, but nowadays I’ve seen even teenage girls that have spun it. In some of the villages. And it’s not practiced everywhere on Kodiak now. I know it sometimes happens out in Old Harbor.”
“And Ahkiok actually,” Leist added.
Members of Kodiak’s Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church will bring their voices and the holiday star to the Alutiiq Museum tonight. If you’d like to hear songs in Slavonic, Alutiiq, and Yu’pik, be there at 7 p.m.
Note 01/08/16: Nadia Mullan and Julie Knagin sung "Amlertut Kiaget" in the audio. Both have since passed away.