A Christmas by any other name ...

Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2001

"Christmas comes but once a year," is how the old saying goes. Maybe it does, and maybe it doesn't, depending on how you look at things.

For the Russian Orthodox faithful, Christmas is today.

Not that they believe Christ was born on a different day than other Christian faiths, they just have a different calendar (See related story, this page).

Many who are strict believe Christmas is only today.

But in Alaska, where cultures and traditions often blend, some Orthodox celebrate twice.

"I celebrate two Christmases," said lifelong Kenai resident and Russian Orthodox parishioner Margie Jordan.

"December 25th is a more commercial Christmas for the kids, while Russian Christmas is more religious for us."

She added with a laugh that the Russian Orthodox faithful get the added benefit of taking advantage of post-Dec. 25 Christmas sales.

Members of the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai will begin Christmas with Divine Liturgy this morning, followed by a community lunch.

This evening, members of the church will travel door-to-door singing carols, the Russian Orthodox way.

The Orthodox way is called "starring," the carrying of a five-pointed star, which is spun while songs are sung in front of a home. It is spun in opposing directions with each song.

"It's our version of caroling," said Edna Linderman, Jordan's sister.

"A long time ago, everyone in the village of Kenai knew each other, and we'd go to every home," Jordan said.

The tradition includes feeding those starring.

"They used to have lunches for us, and we'd get full going from one house to another," Jordan said.

Today, many people offer tea and cookies, and sometimes fry-bread, she said.

The starring group does not go to as many homes as it used to, she added.

"We go to Heritage House and Chuda House where the elders remember starring," she said. "We also go to homes that invite us."

She said the starring can take up to three days but thinks it can be done in two this year, today and Monday. Elsewhere in Alaska, where entire villages are predominantly Russian Orthodox, the starring celebration and feasts can last up to a week.

The star, symbolic of the Bethlehem star, is usually held by an axle and spun by an altar boy, who stands before the carolers as they sing.

"Elders say that in the old days everyone had lanterns as they starred, and when they walked through town it looked like a parade," Jordan said.

The star used by the Kenai church is relatively new, made by Rev. Michael Trefon. It is made of wood and decorative fabric, with an icon, or painting, of the Virgin Mary on the hub in the center of the star.

"Father Trefon made the star collapsible for traveling," said church elder Daryle White, while demonstrating its umbrella-like action. "He's a talented craftsman."

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