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Episode 90: Russian Orthodox Christmas celebration revisited

By KTVA Alaska 1:27 PM January 16, 2017

When I first moved to Bethel in 1988, I was surprised to see the holiday decorations remain long after Christmas.

“How strange,” I thought. “Maybe people enjoy them so much, they just don’t want to take them down.”

Then one of my colleagues at KYUK, the public radio and TV station in Bethel, said she was planning to take time off for “Slaaviq” in her home village of Kwethluk.


I had never before heard that word, a variant of “slava,” which means “glory” in Russian. It’s also the name for a week of festivities, which begins on Jan. 7, the day the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christ’s birthday based on the Julian calendar.

As I later learned, the Russian Orthodox faith is one of the oldest forms of Christianity practiced in Alaska, more than 200 years old – and its celebration in our state has become a unique mix of old-world European and Alaska Native traditions.

This Sunday, we repeated an episode we ran last year at this time — “Frontiers of Faith.” It captured the spirit of the orthodox celebration and has been one of our most popular shows. I hope you enjoy the sights and sounds of the festivities again.

Some of the highlights:

  • Photojournalist Will Mader takes you on tour of St. Tikhon, a church tucked into the Anchorage Hillside, alive with Byzantine beauty. The hand-painted frescoes and icons are full of rich colors and history.
  • Our guest, Father Michael Oleksa, is a well-known lecturer on cross-cultural education – an encyclopedia of information and a wonderful storyteller.

If you enjoy the Christmas season, in Alaska, know that it lasts a little longer here. In rural Alaska, you will often find members of the community who enjoy the best of both worlds – they celebrate on both Dec. 25  and Jan. 7.

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