St. Seraphim Church's parish sends out slavii stars
Eastern Orthodox churches across Alaska celebrated Christmas on Sunday, following the old Julian calendar. One of the holiday's most visually striking traditions in Alaska is "slavii."
The tradition originally comes from Ukraine. Carolers bring spinning stars made of cardboard and tinsel from home to home, singing in Yup'ik, English and Slavonic.
The Dillingham, Aleknagik, Portage Creek and Ekuk stars all began their journeys at St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church in Dillingham on Sunday. Men and boys stood at the front of the church and spun the stars directly after the Christmas liturgy.
The members of the church divided into groups, depending on which village they represent, and sang their carols. In addition to the four stars that will travel, a parishioner also spun the seven-foot star that will remain inside the church.
After singing in the church, three slavii groups walked to the parish house to sing in the home of the priest and his family. After they sang, they shared a meal of salmon and ham. From there, the stars split up to visit other homes, following the same pattern of singing and eating with their hosts. Each star with its singers might go to as many 10 or 15 houses in a day this week.
"It's like caroling to the extreme and also going into peoples homes and proclaiming that salvation has come through the child," said Rev. Michael Nicolai, referring to the child Jesus Christ in the Bible. The stars are symbolic of the star in the Bible that wise men from the east followed to find the infant Jesus.
Some Elders in the Bristol Bay area still remember when singers traveled for slavii by dog sled. These days carolers travel to nearby villages by snow machine, weather permitting.
With low snow on the ground though, slavii groups in the St. Seraphim parish said that they are likely to stick around the Dillingham-Aleknagik road system this year. The celebration will continue through Jan. 13.