Nativity, St. Herman, and Slaviiq
Starring in Kodiak,
Alaska. As we draw near to celebrate
the Nativity of Christ, we also remember our patron, St. Herman of Alaska on
December 25/26. As our neighbors celebrate the coming of Christ on December 25,
we in Alaska remember the one who brought us the light of the Gospel, both by
his words and deeds.
Perhaps no other activity is so identified with the Orthodox Church in Alaska
at this time of the year as the custom of starring (slaviiq). Here are some
thoughts on this custom; may the light of Christ illumine your hearts during
this blessed season!
The Story of Starring
The custom of following a large pinwheel-shaped “star” from house to house
(and in some places even from village to village), singing Orthodox Christian
hymns and Christmas carols originated in the Carpathian Mountains, an area on
the border between Russia, Poland, Slovakia and Romania. The peasants in this
region observed the Feast of the Nativity of Christ by composing folk carols and
“following the star” as the Magi did, to worship the newborn Savior.
How this custom arrived in Alaska really is not known. Certainly there were
frontiersmen and settlers in Siberia who brought the custom of “starring” here
and some eventually and remained in Alaska when the territory was part of the
Russian Empire (1741–1867). They sang these hymns and folk carols and taught
them to their wives and children, and the custom has survived since that time.
Within Alaska, customs differ, with lots of singing and then feasting and
even gift giving in the Yup’ik homes along the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers. In
Bristol Bay, along the Nushagak River and around Lake Iliamna, there is less
visiting and the singers travel more quickly around their own village before
heading for the neighboring communities, where most households give a gift “to
the star” as a donation to the parish church the singers represent. Many homes
host elaborate memorial dinners during the holiday, if a family member has
passed away during the previous year.
The repertoire everywhere includes the tropar of the Feast: “Thy Nativity, O
Christ Our God, has shown to the world the light of wisdom, for by it those who
worshipped the stars were taught by a star to adore Thee…” the ancient hymn that
inspired the custom of “starring.”
The singers in most regions enter each house singing “Glory to God in the
Highest,” the song of the angels at Christmas, which in Slavonic is “Slava v
vyshnikh Bogu,”from which the name Slaaviq is derived. We give slava
(glory) to God, praising Him for sending His Son and adoring Him as Emmanuel,
God with us.
The most popular folk carols include “Nebo i Zemlya” (Heaven and Earth),
“Divnaya Novina” (Glad Tidings) “Nam Rodilsya” (He is born for Us) and
“Vefleyemi Novina” (There is Joy in Bethlehem).
Everywhere, the singers conclude with the hymn“Mnogaya Leta” (God grant you
many Years), invoking His blessing on all who have participated in the
celebration and asking God to grant them prosperity, peace, and health for many
more blessed years.
Herman Theological Seminary
26 / 12 /
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