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Bristol Bay slavii stars to travel this Orthodox Christmas, with some precautions still in place

Izzy Ross
A young parishioner spins the slavii star at the parish house of St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church in Dillingham on Jan. 17, 2019.

To include your community's slavii star schedule in this story, please email

Orthodox Christmas begins Jan. 7. The holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and is marked by slavii, a tradition also known as starring that originated in Ukraine. People travel to houses across their communities in Bristol Bay to carol and spin large wooden stars decorated with tinsel and pictures of saints.

In Dillingham, slavii begins at the St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church on Wood River Road. Celebrations start with a service tonight at 6 p.m., followed by the Christmas service on Saturday morning at 9 a.m.

During services and slavii, people sing in slavonic, English and Yup’ik.

"We just go and sing and bless peoples' houses," said Maggie Carr, who will attend mass in Dillingham before starting this year's starring. "In the bible it says following the star, so that's what we do — follow the star."

Carr said this year her family will expand their celebration.

"We're planning on snowmachining to Manokotak after church and the priest's house, and coming back on Sunday and then slavii the Dillingham residences," she said.

Many communities have their own stars, and Carr said her family, which is from Portage Creek, will travel with the Portage Creek star.

"Me and my sister decorated it last year," she said. "I think Tim Wonhola actually made it about 47, 48 years ago."

When people bring stars to homes, they usually visit, rest and eat. But during the pandemic, slavii celebrations were curtailed. Still, Carr said, they worked to carry on the tradition.

"We actually just sang outside of peoples' houses," she said. "Only with close people that let us in, we went in."

Subdeacon John Casteel is helping to organize services and slavii for the church. He said that with cases of the flu, RSV and COVID circulating in the community, they are still following some of those precautions this holiday.

"We're not wanting to show up at peoples' houses unexpectedly, 'cause we're not sure if they're sick, we're not sure if they don't want to get sick 'cause of exposure," he said. "So we are asking [them] to give us a call if they want us to attend their house to sing Christmas songs for them."

Those who would like slavii groups to come to their house can call or text Casteel at 907-843-3110. Those who want the Portage Creek star to come to their home can get in touch with Carr on Facebook.

Slavii celebrations continue until New Year’s Eve on Jan. 13.

Get in touch with the author at or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.