As the majority of Alaskans have already packed away their Christmas decorations, a significant portion of the population is still preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ on January 7. This is because the Russian Orthodox Church, which has a strong presence in Alaska, follows the Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the modern Gregorian calendar.
The Julian calendar was created in the first century B.C. under Julius Caesar, and up until the 20th century, all Orthodox churches around the world followed this calendar. However, in the 16th century, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar to correct discrepancies between astronomical calculations and fixed calendar dates. Most of the world adopted the Gregorian calendar, but some Orthodox churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church, continued to adhere to the Julian calendar.
In Alaska, where the Russian Orthodox Church has 90 active parishes, January 7 holds special significance. Alaska Natives have a deep connection to Orthodox Christianity, as the first mission was established on Kodiak Island in the late 1700s with the arrival of Russian fur traders and priests. The clergy made efforts to learn the local Native language and traditions, even creating an alphabet to translate Sacred Scripture. In fact, the first book ever published in an Alaska Native language was an 1834 Aleut catechism.
One of the cherished traditions during Orthodox Christmas in Alaska is the practice of “starring.” Groups of Orthodox faithful visit individual homes, singing songs in various languages, including Russian, Yup’ik, Alutiiq, and Dena’ina, while spinning a large, beautifully decorated nativity star in memory of the Star of Bethlehem. This tradition incorporates ancient Native practices of feasting and honoring departed relatives.
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Another significant ritual observed by Orthodox Christians is the procession to a lake, river, or ocean, where a priest blesses the water. Many parishioners collect the blessed water and use it for blessings throughout the year.
The celebration of Orthodox Christmas on January 7 is a testament to the rich cultural heritage and religious diversity present in Alaska. It is a time for Alaskans to come together, embracing both their Orthodox Christian faith and the indigenous traditions that have been intertwined with it for centuries.
For those who are part of the Orthodox community or have an interest in learning about different religious practices, Orthodox Christmas on January 7 provides a unique opportunity to experience a culturally rich celebration. Attending a local Orthodox Christmas service or participating in the tradition of “starring” can be a meaningful way to engage with the festivities and gain a deeper understanding of the intersection between faith and culture.
Make some memories:
- Attend an Orthodox Christmas service: Check with local Orthodox churches to find out if they are holding special services or events on January 7. Attending a service can provide a firsthand experience of the Orthodox Christmas traditions and allow you to connect with the local Orthodox community.
- Learn about Orthodox traditions: Take the time to research and learn more about the customs and practices associated with Orthodox Christmas. Understanding the significance behind these traditions can deepen your appreciation for the cultural and religious diversity in Alaska.
- Support local Orthodox communities: Consider supporting local Orthodox communities by attending their events, volunteering, or making a donation. Your support can help preserve and promote their unique cultural and religious heritage.
Orthodox Christmas on January 7 is celebrated by Orthodox Christians in Alaska who adhere to the Julian calendar. This celebration holds deep cultural and religious significance for Alaska Natives and the Orthodox community. The traditions associated with Orthodox Christmas, such as “starring” and the blessing of water, reflect the blending of Orthodox Christianity with ancient Native practices. Taking part in these traditions or learning about them can provide a deeper understanding of Alaska’s cultural heritage.
Remember to check back for updates on this ongoing story and stay informed about the diverse cultural and religious practices that shape our communities.