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Christmas a star attraction for Russian Orthodox believers

January 09, 2010|by Jackie Bartz
  • Father Peter Chris says starring brings him so much joy it makes him feel like a little kid. (Jonathan Hartford/KTUU-DT)
Father Peter Chris says starring brings him so much joy it makes him feel like a little kid. (Jonathan Hartford/KTUU-DT)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — You've probably tossed out your Christmas tree and taken down the lights -- but the Russian Orthodox Church just started its holiday season Thursday.

The church follows the Julian calendar, where Christmas lands on Jan. 7. It's a celebration steeped in tradition and symbolism.

Shortly before the stars begin to twinkle above Anchorage, a small group gathers to watch. But the star these people are looking for is a little brighter, and only comes out once a year -- a symbol of the holiday church members bring to others' homes, in a tradition called starring.

"They twirl the star to greet the families with the joy of the birth of Christ," said Father John Zabinko. "Traditionally here in Alaska an elaborate star is prepared, and they carry the star to the home."

The songs lead the congregation through its celebration, telling the tale of Christ from his birth in a manger to the angels singing his praise.

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"And during the singing of the various different Christmas songs and hymns, usually in Russian and English and the particular Native language of the area of where they are starring," Zubinko said.

Over 2,000 years ago, three wise men followed a star to Jesus. Today, these men and women also follow a star, singing while they visit friends and family.

"The idea of welcoming people into their homes and preparing a meal and giving them gifts is the sharing in the joy of the birth of Christ," Zabinko said.

While starring usually sees people open their homes and their kitchens, they also open their hearts.

"And for me, it just brings so much joy, it just makes me almost like a little kid," said Father Peter Chris. "I get these goose bumps all the time."

Starring can last anywhere from three days to a week. Revelers prepare a wide variety of foods and give an assortment of gifts. Once the food is gone and all the gifts are given, the guests often continue to another participating home.

Eventually the star is stored away, but its light doesn't dim. It shines year-round in the smiles of its followers.

"But when these three wise men left, God showed them the direction, the right direction" Chris said. "And that's how each and every one of us should be in mind -- to follow that, the right direction."

Contact Jackie Bartz at jbartz@ktuu.com

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