• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 9s

Episode 37: Frontiers of Faith, Russian Orthodox Christmas

By KTVA Alaska 9:07 AM January 11, 2016

While Dec. 25 is the day most Alaskans celebrate Christ’s birthday, Jan. 7 is the day for the Russian Orthodox, who use the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian. Jan. 7 is also the start of a week of festivities.

The Russian Orthodox faith is one of the oldest in Alaska, more than 200 years old. And while it’s practiced in communities across the state, Father Michael Oleksa says there’s very little that’s truly “Russian” in what’s popularly known as “Russian Christmas”  — that the celebration here is a mix of European and Alaska Native traditions, which merged and took on a unique character of their own.

Father Oleska, a well-known lecturer on cross-cultural education, is our guest. If you haven’t heard him before, he’s an encyclopedia of information but also a wonderful storyteller.  Also check out this week’s Frontiers Web Extra, which features an extended interview with Father Oleksa. Truly, I could listen to him talk for hours.

Also on this week’s program, we take you on a tour of St. Tikhon, a Russian Orthodox parish tucked into the Anchorage Hillside. It may look rather plain on the outside, but inside it’s filled with ornate frescoes and icons. Photojournalist Will Mader gives us an inspired look at all this Byzantine beauty.

We hope this week’s show, “Frontiers of Faith,” gives you an appreciation for some of the history and culture behind Russian Orthodox Christmas in Alaska.

One of the traditions you’ll learn about is “starring,” a practice which takes place in communities across the state. Over the course of seven days, a twirling star leads a procession of singers to homes, which are filled with the sound of carols – some in Native languages, others in Ukrainian and Russian.

Afterwards, people feast and the host gives everyone gifts – usually small, useful things, like tea towels and socks. So when you’re in Fred Meyer or Walmart, and you see an Alaska Native with a cart piled with socks, towels or gloves, they could be preparing to host a group of singers in their home.

Over the years, as more Rural Alaskans have moved to Anchorage, the “starring” tradition has become a bigger part of the city’s celebration. Father Oleska invited us to his home to get a taste of what’s known in villages as “Slaaviq” or “Slavi”  — probably a variant of the Russian word, “slava,” which means “glory.”

The St. Alexis Chapel choir sang for us in a wide repertoire of languages. They come from communities across the state, including the Aleutian Chain and Western Alaska.

As part of this week’s program, our producer Gina Romero put together a photo gallery with contributions from our viewers.

We’re still adding to our web gallery, so if you want your pictures included, post them on our new Facebook page, “Frontiers with Rhonda McBride,” or you can email them to Gina at gromero@ktva.com .

We want to thank two of our viewers — Laura Hilts of Seldovia and Richard Russell of Palmer — for sending questions for this week’s guest, Father Oleska.

Our guest next week is Andrew Jensen, editor of the Alaska Journal of Commerce. We’ll be talking about the Kenai Fish Wars, the ongoing battle between the setnetters and sports fishers, in light of a recent State Supreme Court decision.  If you have questions you’d like me to ask, please message me on Facebook.

Latest Stories

  • News

    AFD conducts water rescue training on Cook Inlet

    by KTVA Web Staff on Jun 25, 14:37

    The Anchorage Fire Department is warning people not to try and walk from the Anchorage shore across to Fire Island. Authorities say that too often, attempts turn deadly. Anchorage Fireman and their partners from Ted Stevens practiced water rescues Saturday afternoon. They were working with jet skis and a boat. AFD says in the summer, […]

  • News

    Columbus Day to be known as Indigenous Peoples day in Alaska

    by Liz Raines on Jun 25, 14:27

    From now on, Columbus Day in Alaska will be known as Indigenous Peoples day. Gov. Bill Walker signed House Bill 78 into law Saturday, in Utquiagvik, the town formerly known as Barrow. The signing took place at Nalukataq, the Inupiaq whaling festival. The setting was particularly symbolic for many there, where the American, Alaska and Inupiat […]

  • Anchorage’s Swayman, Evingson selected in NHL Draft

    by Dave Leval on Jun 25, 14:20

    Jeremy Swayman’s dad grew up a New York Rangers’ fan. Looks like he will have to root for another “Original Six” team. The Boston Bruins selected Jeremy in the fourth round of Saturday’s NHL Draft. The 18-year-old Anchorage native spent the last two seasons as a goalie with the Sioux Falls Stampede in the United […]

  • Sports

    Musher Travis Beals allowed to compete in 2018 Iditarod

    by KTVA Web Staff on Jun 25, 13:49

    Domestic violence is a big problem in Alaska, and this year, the issue made headlines when it became a focus of the last great race. A musher had to sit out of the Iditarod due to domestic violence charges against him. But now, musher Travis Beals could be back on the trail next March. Beals […]

  • News

    Brown bear mauls cyclist on JBER

    by KTVA Web Staff on Jun 25, 12:43

    The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says a pair of cyclists encountered a bear on JBER Saturday morning. Authorities say the pair came across a brown bear with cubs while cycling on a main gravel road near Clunie Lake. The cyclists used bear spray to fend off the sow, but one cyclist was “knocked […]

  • Statue stands in honor of Iditarod founder

    by Dave Leval on Jun 24, 22:21

    He already has a school named after him, now, there’s another way to honor the man known as the “father of the Iditarod.” It took Palmer artist Pat Garley took roughly 18 months to complete the “Joe Redington, Senior on the Trail” statue that sits outside Redington Junior-Senior High School. The part of Redington weighs […]

  • Rookie musher first to sign up for 2018 Iditarod

    by Dave Leval on Jun 24, 22:19

    Shaynee Traska has what she needs as she prepares for the biggest challenge of her athletic career. The Yukon Quest 300 veteran from Two Rivers wants to play with the big dogs. Traska is the first person to sign up for next year’s Iditarod. “Very surprised, being a big Iditarod sign up day, I thought […]

  • News

    Pride Fest celebrates 40 years in Anchorage

    by Heather Hintze on Jun 24, 18:04

    Hundreds of people turned out in downtown Anchorage for the 40th annual Pride Fest. Mo Haddock and Callene Monasmith set their lawn chairs up early to get a front for the parade. “It’s a lot of fun. We like to people watch anyway but today is very fulfilling. Very heartwarming to see so many people […]