For many Alaskans, Alaska Day is just another holiday. But for the Sitkans, it’s the biggest community event of the year – and they crammed together so much in the week leading up to October 18 that it’s impossible to do it all.
Ask Patti Kern Parcel. She tried.
A resident of Billings, MT, Kern Parcel visited Alaska pretty much every season, so she was thrilled to come through Sitka Alaska Day Celebration from her bucket list in 2019. And she made the most of the experience, from having a photo taken with the volunteers dressed in period clothing who greet visitors at the airport to choosing her own dress at the old for the Alaskan day ball to take in cooking the chili.
âI did a lot of things,â said Kern Parcel. “I was exhausted by the end.”
But you don’t have to strain to get the most out of Alaska Day – the annual commemoration is designed to be exactly as active, relaxing, or reflective as you want it to be.
Why Alaska Day?
Alaska Day marks the anniversary of Alaska’s transfer from Russia to the United States in 1867. The transfer took place in Sitka, the colonial capital of Russia, and each year the southern community East Alaska is working hard to celebrate its role in the history of the state. Similar to the Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage and the Golden Days in Fairbanks, Sitka’s Alaska Day hosts fun and festive public events in a historical context that recalls the roots of the party in the 19th century.
The week leading up to Alaska Day begins with the swearing-in of Keystone Kops, volunteer ambassadors who sell reminder buttons to raise funds for the celebration (and mark those who don’t show up with a big kiss of red. lips on the cheek). The Seattle Fire Department’s bagpipes and drums usually arrive early for school tours, then spend the weekends playing at rallies around town. There’s a Brewed Cruise hosted by the Sitka Historical Society, school clinics hosted by the 9th Army Band, an air and sea rescue demonstration hosted by the US Coast Guard, and a celebration of Indigenous Peoples. The Russian Orthodox Church holds a sale of fish pies and fried bread, while the Lutheran Church holds a sale of pies. Guest speakers, community concerts and social events fill the program.
âIt’s a fun time,â said Alaska Day committee chair Ted Allio. âEveryone in town is welcome to put something on our schedule. “
Kern Parcel’s visit began with a dress fitting, taking advantage of the collection of period sets that the Alaska Day committee is making available for loan. Other guests purchase their own 19th-century festive attire or attend in military uniform or traditional Alaskan Native badges. Although she encountered logistical challenges – 1800s hoop skirts weren’t made to fit 2000s automobiles – Kern Parcel said she liked the opportunity to dress up.
“You know, you went to a prom when you were in high school, but to go to a ball when everyone’s in those nice vintage dresses, and then the men wear either military uniforms or costumes. the time – – and the army group was awesome, “said Kern Parcel.” Of course there were drinks and appetizers and all kinds of things. They had a competition to find out. who had the best outfit for the period.
After dancing the night away at the Alaska Ball, Kern Parcel got up early for the annual parade, complete with everything you’d expect: bands, members of the military, decorated vehicles and classic cars.
âIt was a really cool show,â said Kern Parcel. âRight after, I climbed to the top of Castle Hill to witness the transfer ceremony, where they reenact the transfer from Alaska to the United States. As I was coming back from there, the Coast Guard was demonstrating air-to-sea rescue from a helicopter right there. Just there! It was quite impressive to watch.
That same day, Kern Parcel managed to host a military memorial service at Sitka National Cemetery, a Tlingit dance performance at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall, and a chili kitchen, among other activities – and she knows she didn’t even failed to participate in each event.
âA lot of things happen in a day and a half,â said Kern Parcel. âWe went from one activity to another. It was wonderful. It went so fast. “
While Alaska’s party is a long-standing tradition in Sitka, it is not static.
In recent years, an effort has been made to integrate and respect the experience of the Tlingit of Sitka. For members of the Kiks.Ã¡di clan, the Alaska holiday represents the transfer of their traditional lands from one colonizing entity to another.
âRussia never really ‘owned’ Alaska,â Allio said. âThe Russians pretty much occupied it.
A growing number of Sitkans are now observing October 18 as a day of reconciliation and recognition of the effects of historic trauma on the indigenous peoples of Alaska. In 2017, a popular mourning ceremony was held at the bottom of Castle Hill, and it grew over the following years to include a procession to the top of the hill, which was once the site of a strategic fortification Tlingit. Now known as the reconciliation ceremony, this event reflects the hope of many Sitkans that Alaska Day will continue to evolve and reflect the experiences of the area’s first residents.
In 2020, an equally historic new event changed the shape of Alaska Day when the global pandemic forced in-person events to be canceled. This year, the organizers decided to find safe ways to celebrate.
âThis year our theme is ‘get together’,â Allio said.
While the Alaska Day Ball is on hiatus, other events have been adapted for the COVID era. The annual Alaska Day Brew Fest and Sitka Historical Society’s Brisket Cookoff will be held outdoors, as will an exchange meeting and the Army Band concert. A new event, paddle board races for ages 8 and up, will be held on Lac des Cygnes in the heart of downtown. And as always, the historic hosts will greet visitors at the airport – they will be standing just outside rather than in the terminal.
âLast year we didn’t do anything, so this year we’ll try to do whatever we can,â said Allio, who has been working with the organizing committee since January to plan. the list of this year’s events. âYou just need to get off one of those times. “
For Kern Parcel, once was not enough. Although she won’t be returning to Sitka in October, she is already thinking about returning to make the most of Alaska Day in the future.
âI’ve been to Sitka for many months, and the Alaska Day Ball and All Alaska Day Activity was probably one of my favorites,â said Kern Parcel. “I would love to take my husband, outfit him and bring him to the ball.”
This story was produced by the Anchorage Daily News Sponsored Content Department in conjunction with Visit Sitka. DNA writing was not involved in its production.