January 21, 2005

23. Slaaviq.

Last weekend marked the end of Slaaviq, the weeklong Russian Orthodox winter celebration. Each day for a week, the entire Russian Orthodox community gathers together for many hours in the homes of fellow worshipers.

From what I understand, Slaaviq doesn’t replace Christmas, but it is the biggest time for celebration on the Russian Orthodox calendar. The celebration begins around noon and continues through the morning hours of the next day. Around four or five homes are visited per day. Inside, there is singing, worshiping, eating and gift-giving. The host has plenty of tasty food and treats ready for the guests to eat after singing and worship. While guests indulge, the host (with the help of some of the younger folks) hands out gifts of all kinds to everyone who is present. I was lucky enough to attend the last home visited. The singing was beautiful and completely new to me: uniquely rhythmic with intense harmony. After a bit of singing inside, everyone went outside for a short time to sing at the nearby cemetery, where some of the gravesites were tastefully adorned with holiday lights. After we came back inside, worship commenced in Yupik, followed by amazing food, fellowship and gifts. It was one of the most special forms of worship of which I’ve been a part.

This is the first year in some time that school has been held in the village during Slaaviq. Usually, winter break is extended for another week in place of spring break. A decision was made last year to give this a try, but although enough students made it for each day to count officially, next year school will not be held during this time.


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