Unalaskans celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas with starring ceremony
Congregants gathered at Unalaska’s Church of the Holy Ascension to celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas, otherwise known as Slavi, on Jan. 7. At the height of the ceremony, church bells rang and the crowd sang in Russian, English, Church Slavonic and Unangam Tunuu, while some members of the church spun brightly-colored stars.
This was the second in-person starring ceremony since the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first Christmas service led by Father Timothy Kolb, Unalaska’s newest resident Russian Orthodox priest. Kolb arrived in September, filling a vacancy that lasted a few months in the spring and summer.
Kolb said the ceremony offers a sense of connection across time.
“This is not something new,” he said. “This is not something we're coming up with on our own. It's something that we're participating in and joining in: centuries of tradition, centuries of singing these songs and these hymns, and we’re using the exact same language.”
Kolb came to Unalaska with his wife, Beth Kolb. She said that the Unalaska starring was her first.
“This is our first time because, in Wasilla — where we came from, starring is not a tradition there,” she said. “It's a newer parish, it's actually the newest in the diocese. This is the oldest. So it's kind of a fun little switcheroo.”
Beth said the stars used in the ceremony symbolize connection to Jesus Christ.
“That star represents that He can find us anywhere,” she said.
Rufina Shaishnikoff attended the starring at Holy Ascension. Communities like Unalaska help keep the tradition alive, she said.
“Father Michael Oleksa — the one who just passed away — he was from Ukraine, and he found places [in Ukraine] where they actually still do this,” Shaishnikoff said. “But other than the Native villages of Alaska, I think the tradition has died out.”
Some of the stars used in the Unalaska ceremony are decades old and have been passed down among family members for generations.