The Chugach Heritage Foundation (CHF) hosts an annual Russian New Year’s celebration. This time-honored tradition ushers in the Russian New Year with an evening of Native culture and fun. This year’s festivities took place on February 3 at the Mark Begich Middle School.
Russian New Year is a blend of Russian and Sugpiaq holidays. Originally, a winter festival celebrated by the Sugpiaq people, the ceremony gradually shifted to coincide with Russian New Year. This has allowed the Sugpiaq people to honor their ancient traditions while respecting their adopted Orthodox faith.
The celebration centers on a light-hearted play or skit. The play opens with the dramatic entrance of the New Year, the lead character, who proudly displays a paddle with the numbers of the new year. The New Year is joined by his vigilant bodyguard, the M.P., and the Twelve Months who are played by twelve young women. The Old Year and his three Old Hags make up the final part of the procession.
The participants join in a slow moving circle as the audience claps and shouts. The New Year theatrically keeps an eye on the Old Year. The Twelve Months trail behind with the faithful M.P. The Old Hags dance in the middle of the circle and harass the M.P. and the members of the audience. Laughter and rounds of applause encourage the Old Hags and their escalating mischief.
Throughout the procession, the Old Year stumbles and feigns tiredness. The Twelve Months each rush forward to help him regain his footing. The New Year eventually chases the Old Year out of the room, beating him with his paddle. The Old Hags heroically try to defend the Old Year, but the New Year still wins the day, or evening, and forces him to leave. The Twelve Months follow behind to console the Old Year in his banishment.
Finally, the New Year and the M.P. contend with the Hags. The audience cheers as the Hags remain defiant to the end. Eventually, they are exiled and join the Old Year offstage. The triumphant New Year and his bodyguard are the last to exit.
The conclusion of the play ushers in the Russian New Year. The actors return and remove their masks and costumes to more rounds of applause, and the evening culminates with dancing and singing.
Sheri Buretta, Chugach Chairman, officiated this year’s event and took a moment to recognize the dedication that Gordon Kvasnikoff has contributed to the annual event. “Gordon has been instrumental in passing this tradition on to our youth,” Buretta said. “He is a true role model for our community.”
In appreciation of his years of service, Buretta presented Kvasnikoff with a handcrafted, traditional Aluutiq hunting visor.
As the celebration ended, Buretta thanked the Heritage Foundation for all of their hard work. “Our CHF Manager, Stephen Grantier, did an amazing job organizing the celebration, and I would also like to thank all of the individuals and organizations for the contributions made to this year’s reenactment of the traditional Russian New Year’s Celebration.”