Monday, September 22, 2008

Russian Old Believers

While the rest of America may be enjoying Indian Summer, we Alaskans are well into Fall and hunkering down for the winter. Yesterday I drained my hot tub and used the warm water to rinse off hanging baskets and other things around the yard before putting them away for the winter. Don't worry, we refilled the hot tub with fresh water today. The hot tub is the only way to gaze at stars and look for Northern lights during the winter in Alaska!

Maya bows her head while we say grace before dinner.

Last week my friend Alana blogged about going on a field trip with her son's class and two of the girls in her group were Russian Old Believers. They are the Alaskan-Russian equivalent of the Amish. 10 years ago they didn't really mingle with outsiders. Now their children play on the same hockey teams with our kids.

This is an email I sent out to my friends last winter before I had a blog:

I love being a hockey mom.

Okay, so I’m at the game banging on the plexiglass and yelling like all the other hockey moms. One of the Russian girls’ dress starts coming untucked from her hockey shorts. She freaks out and starts trying to tuck the skirt back up into her shorts. Her mom is screaming at her to leave the dress alone and get her head back into the game.

You have know the history of the Russian “Old Believers” to appreciate the hilarity of this scene. Russian Old Believers are a religious group that did not like the way Constantine was trying to modernize the Russian Orthodox Church back in 1600 or whenever (you history buffs can look it up). So they broke off and formed their own sect. They live in isolated communities like the Amish. In Homer there are 4 different villages within 20 miles of town. They have their own schools which are funded by the state. Many of the children do not learn English until they start school. Some villages are more liberal than others. Obviously, the hockey playing Russians are more liberal. They make their own clothes mostly. The boys and men wear these shirts with flowers embroidered around the collar. They wear a string around their waist that protects them from evil. They do not shave their beards. The women wear flowing dresses made of a rayon polyester, tied at the waist. The pattern of the shirts and dresses are identical but they come in different colors and prints. After they get married they women wear scarves on their heads, usually matching their dresses.

Eyna’s (pronounced EE-NA) dress was red with white polkadots. So when it started to come untucked from her hockey shorts, it looked like the classic red boxers with white polka dots they always show in cartoons when the dog bites the cartoon character’s butt or pulls the man’s pants down.

When Matt was growing up here, the Russians mainly kept to themselves. So it is a really neat thing to see the Russians mixing with the other Alaskans. At Christmas time when the hockey rink has parties, they bring their traditional foods to share. We only got an indoor rink two years ago. That was another joint venture. The parents raised money for years but just couldn’t save enough money to buy property and build a rink. The Seldovia Village Tribe (Alaskan Natives) built us a state of the art indoor hockey rink on some prime property and we lease it from them. So there you have it, three different factions of the Alaskan community uniting for a common cause. And you thought we were nothing but a bunch of Red Necks!

One more fun fact about the Russian Old Believers: they have settlements all over the world. One is in Bolivia and another is in Oregon!

Here's a link to a piece on Russian Old Believers that appeared on TV recently:

Maya and Chris swimming at the Bay Club

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