In many homes across Alaska, Christmas trees stay up through mid-January in celebration of Russian Orthodox Christmas, which falls each year on January 7. There’s days of feasting and praying – and starring. And after two years of relative quiet due to the pandemic, parishioners on Kodiak Island are ready to welcome back the tradition.
In Alutiiq, the practice of “starring” is known as Slaawiq. It’s also called Slavii, or Slaaviq in parts of Alaska. Parishioners twirl wooden stars covered in colorful tinsel as part of church ceremonies. The stars are then taken from home to home within the community. Carolers follow, singing hymns and packing into houses to eat and visit with loved ones.
In the Russian Orthodox faith, the star symbolizes the birth of Jesus Christ and the Star of Bethlehem.
“There’s just beautiful local foods that are served and elders might speak and address the people in the home,” said Spiridon Ash, a reader at St. Herman Theological Seminary in Kodiak. “So, just there’s so much richness to this in community, richness in faith.”
Starring originated in Ukraine, where it’s still practiced today. For centuries it’s also been a celebrated tradition in Orthodox communities across Alaska.
Father Vasily Fisher, a dean at the seminary, said people are excited about this year’s Slaawiq, particularly after not being able to gather for the last few years.
“It’s a wonderful expression, especially this anticipation of this year,” he said. “I think most villages have been closed up because of the pandemic the past few years and from what I’ve seen on social media is the anticipation of preparation.”
Starring can go on for up to a week and sometimes stars will travel to different villages. Many communities have their own customs – some parishioners will exchange gifts when the star visits their home, others sing different songs.
Fr. Vasily said where he’s from, near Bethel, carolers and the star visit the local cemetery.
“It’s also a season where we remember those of our loved ones who passed from this life,” he said.
That’s taken on new meaning since the pandemic began nearly three years ago.
Russian Orthodox Christmas services begin in Kodiak on Friday and run through the weekend. And starring will take place throughout the villages on the Kodiak archipelago and in homes within the city of Kodiak.
The seminary starts Christmas services the day before, on Friday, Jan. 6 at 10 a.m, which are open to the public at the Holy Resurrection Cathedral. The Alutiiq Museum will also be hosting carolers as part of its starring celebration Saturday, Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. Admission to the museum for the event is free for the public.
Ash said the whole community is looking forward to it.
“It’s a heartwarming time and it brings back so many beautiful memories,” he said. “It’s just a beautiful time to recognize the reason for the season.”
It’s also a time to celebrate being together once again.