BARROW (AP) -- Christmas in Barrow is pretty much the same as it is everywhere else in the United States, but a day later, and up until New Years Day, the holidays belong to the Inupiat community. This is the time of the Winter Games.
Deano Olemaun, who is in charge of the Winter Games this year, said the games developed out of a traditional coming together of the Inupiat people.
''People from outlying areas used to congregate this time of year, similar to what the messenger feast was all about,'' Olemaun told the Arctic Sounder. ''They would get together and celebrate, and part of the celebration was the games.''
The traditional games are ones of skill and endurance, including such things as the one-foot and two-foot high kicks, the four-man carry, stick pulls, arm pulls, neck pulls, finger pulls, even ear pulls. There are dozens of different games and races, some of which are tricky, some exhausting and some just plain painful.
''Back then, everybody was in top physical shape. They were always on the move -- they had dog sleds and were on the run all the time -- so they would just get together and have these friendly tests of strength and endurance in the spirit of friendly competition,'' Olemaun said. ''It was more of a reason to just get together than to compete.
''The children would mimic what the adults were doing and compete on their own,'' Olemaun said.
The competition is still friendly, but, for the children at least, it involves cash prizes. There is also a team competition that pits the married people of Barrow against the singles.
''As near as we can tell, the married-single competition has taken place for about 50 years,'' Olemaun said. ''Before that it used to be Barrow against Browerville.''
After the children's competition and a dinner break, the adults take over. Each event is divided into age groups ranging from 17-25 to 70 and over.
When that's all done, the married vs. single competition begins. Last year the married women won, so this year they get to pick the game they will compete in. They continue the game until everybody has to go, Opie said.
The competition takes place all day, said Assistant Borough Mayor Margaret Opie.
''If they start the games at 10 in the morning, then usually they will go until 2,'' Opie said. ''Except on Wednesday, church night, they start 9 and go a little longer that night. New Years Eve they go for 24 hours.''
There seems to be an unwritten rule about competing in the games: no practicing. It is unclear whether practicing is considered a form of cheating or if it is just for sissies, but at any rate it simply isn't done.
''We don't practice,'' Opie said abruptly.
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