- Slaviq (Russian Christmas) - On January 7th, the Russian orthodox church celebrates the Nativity with a tradition known as Slaviq, which comes from the Russian word for "glory". It is also known as "starring". For a week or more, churchgoers carry brightly decorated stars from door to door, singing songs in English, Russian, Slavonic, Yup'ik, and other Alaska Native languages. The procession and carols pay homage to the journey made by the magi. The groups are greeted with food and presents at homes along with way. Slaviq was introduced to Alaska Native peoples in the late 19th century by a Ukranian priest. Read about Slaviq in Nondalton and Bristol Bay.
- Bladder Festival - The Yup'ik believe that no one ever truly dies, but that their soul is part of a cycle in which it is reborn in another generation. This cycle of life extends to animals in the traditional belief that the souls of seals killed by hunters must be properly cared for so that they, too, can be reborn. They believe that a seal recognizes the merits of a hunter and allows itself to be killed; when this happens, the seal's soul retracts to its bladder. Although its body dies and provides food for the hunter, its soul will stay alive in the bladder until it is returned to the sea. The Bladder Festival celebrates the Yup'ik belief in the cycle of life and their relationship with their environment. The Yup'ik hunter collected the bladders from seals killed during the season. When the Bladder Festival is held in the winter, all of the bladders caught by hunters are inflated and hung together in the qasgiq, where they were celebrated for five days. On the fifth day, each family takes the bladders of the seals they have killed to the sea and pushes them through a hole in the ice, allowing the souls of the seals to be reborn. Read about the Bladder Festival in Kodiak and Point Hope.
- Inviting-in Feast - Along the northwest coast of Alaska, the Yup'ik peoples made masks for a final winter ceremony called the Agayuyaraq ("way, or process, of requesting"), also referred to as Kelek ("Inviting-in Feast") or the Masquerade (Fienup-Riordan 1996). You can see an example from the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center here. The complex ceremony involved singing songs of supplication to the animals' yuit ("their persons"), accompanied by the performance of masked dances, under the direction of the shaman. In preparation for the ceremony, the shaman directed the construction of the masks, through which the spirits revealed themselves as simultaneously dangerous and helpful. The helping spirits often took the form of an owl. The majority of masks contained feathers from snowy owls. Carvers strove to represent the helping spirits or animal yuit they had encountered in a vision, dream, or experience. In all cases, the wearer was infused with the spirit of the creature represented. Together with other events, the ceremony embodied a cyclical view of the universe whereby right action in the past and present reproduced abundance in the future. Read about the Inviting-in Feast in the Yukon.
Our staff are available for presentations at staff meetings, in service days, workshops, and more. We would love to share our resources with you and discuss practical ways to implement culturally responsive practices in your classroom. We also have specific information to share about Alaska Native winter holidays as we come into this holiday season. Contact our office at 742-4445 for more information!