Orthodox parishoners sing carols in Sitka, as the star (center) spins. (KCAW photo/Emily Forman)

Tonight (1-6-17) is Christmas Eve in Orthodox Christian parishes across Alaska. Orthodox faithful will go from house to house on foot, in cars, or on snow machines, singing carols and sharing food behind a shiny, spinning pinwheel which represents the Star of Bethlehem.

Although most Orthodox Christmas traditions were brought intentionally to Alaska by the Russians during the colonial era, the spinning star was not one of them.

The Reverend Michael Oleksa is the parish priest in Sitka, and a leading historian of Orthodox Christianity in the state. He says why Alaskan Orthodox follow a spinning star remains a mystery.


Downloadable audio.

Note: This interview was conducted by KCAW Morning Host Melissa Marconi-Wentzel. Listen to a full story about starring — including music — prepared by Marconi-Wentzel in 2009.