Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year from Alaska!
Around this time of year, I get a lot of messages from my friends around the country asking about Alaska’ special holiday traditions. The truth is, although Alaska has been part of the United States since its purchase in 1867, and it has taken on many of the bits and pieces of American culture, our rich heritage also has given Alaska a few unique holiday traditions of our own.
One of the coolest traditions, to me, is the singing of Alutiiq holiday carols. Of course we know the words to the standard songs that everyone else knows and loves, but it’s a cool nod to our state’s native people to sing some of their songs as well. Two of the most popular tunes that we sing are “Sledding” and “Snowman,” both of which are Alutiiq originals. We also sing some Alutiiq translations of traditional carols, like “Nepainani Unuk” (“Silent Night”).
In Alaska, we don’t stop at just singing the tunes though. As is our custom, groups of us brave the cold and go caroling door to door with a colored star at the end of a long pole. One of the theories is that this tradition was adapted from a Scandinavians tradition called “Stjernespill,” as Alaska is home to 61,000 Scandinavians, roughly 9% of our population. Whatever the reason, it is not uncommon to see numerous groups of kids and adults going door to door with the brightly colored star on a stick, singing carols and spreading holiday joy.
When we’re finished caroling, everyone is ready to warm up inside with some good local food. One of our favorite holiday treats include maple-frosted doughnuts, made with maple syrup from our bountiful forests. Another local favorite is a savory fish pie called piruk. And no holiday at our home is complete without smoked salmon to snack on.
Of course, aside from the statewide traditions, our family has some traditions of our own. During my travels over the years, I have amassed a collection of ornaments for our tree, each of which has a story about someplace that I’ve visited. My pewter fleur-de-lis comes from the French Quarter of New Orleans; my little wooden nesting matryoshka doll is a souvenir from a trip to Russia; and my most prized ornament of all is my Murano Glass bauble from Venice. But no ornament or tradition is more important to me than spending time with my family. And I hope you have a chance to do the same.