Orthodox star to again tour Unalaska

Posted: Tuesday, January 02, 2001

UNALASKA (AP) -- The old glass-and-wood star in Nicholai Lekanoff's back room has survived a long-distance move, a war and a devastating house fire.

It has been passed from family member to family member. Through it all, it has remained a central part of the family's annual Christmas celebration.

''My dad's is pretty much the old faithful,'' said Pat Gregory, Lekanoff's daughter. ''It's pretty much the only one that still goes around.''

The star will once again be taking its tour of Unalaska on Jan. 7.

As the star is carried around town each Orthodox Christmas, the group of family and friends that accompany it sings songs in Russian, Aleut and English.

The Lekanoff star, decorated with ribbons and painted with flowers, is the focus of attention in the Orthodox tradition of starring. Similar to caroling, starring involves singing songs to friends and neighbors each Christmas, visiting their homes, and spreading holiday goodwill.

The star was built by the uncle of Lekanoff's late wife, Polly, and was put together using traditional methods -- a wooden frame made without nails, glass points on the star, and a cloth backing glued on with a paste of flour and water.

Even Nicholai Lekanoff isn't sure about its age. The 75-year-old simply says it was made ''before my time.''

But since it was built in the now-extinct village of Kashega, the star's survival has been a small miracle.

When the Natives in the Aleutians were forced to leave their homes during World War II, there was often a debate about what to do with valuable family possessions. Residents of Kashega didn't have that luxury when they were evacuated from the village with virtually no warning.

''They were going to bury the stuff outside, but I'm glad they didn't,'' Lekanoff said. ''We never would have found it again.''

Instead, Lekanoff's family decided just to leave the star in storage at the old church in Kashega.

During the war years, many of the items in the village were looted or burned as firewood. An old wooden kayak in the family home was destroyed, and all of the Aleut Bibles in the church were stolen.

For some reason, the star remained untouched. When Kudrin's uncle returned after the war, he found it in the same spot where it was left.

The star was brought to Unalaska after the war, where Nicholai and Polly settled to raise a family. In 1972, a house fire scorched the old star, forcing the family to repaint and rebuild it.

Every year since then, it has been part of the starring tradition.

The tradition has faded a bit over time, with fewer groups starring in Unalaska, but Gregory said the star is still very much a part of her family's history. Someday it will be passed on to her brother Nicky, who will become the caretaker for the heirloom.

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