Originally published in the Dec/Jan 2013 issue of EDGE YK magazine
by Brad Heath
Yellowknife has slid into the darkest and coldest months of the calendar – but ironically, the city’s multicultural celebrations transform winter into a season of warmth and light!
Here’s a sampling of how people in Yellowknife celebrate during the festive season.
Yellowknives Dene Traditional Celebrations
Christmas and New Year’s Day celebrations in N’Dilo and Dettah have changed over the years, but still include a community feast and drum dance, says Mary-Rose Sundberg, Executive Director of the Goyatikö Language Society.
When she was young, she says everyone would attend church on Christmas Eve and the children would be “so excited” to wear the new jackets, mittens, moccasins and/or mukluks their parents had made them for Christmas. After church service on Christmas morning, there would be a potluck feast and drum dance later in the day. “Everyone would bring whatever they had, whether it was fish or caribou, moose meat, rice pudding or tea,” says Sundberg.
Now, most people spend Christmas with their families and the largest feast and drum dance of the year are saved for New Year’s Day in the new community hall in Dettah. Before the Dettah Drummers kick off that big celebration, there’s church in the morning, then early in the afternoon people take an hour or so to walk house-to-house and shake hands. It is also tradition for the homeowners to greet their visitors with a very short speech expressing their gratitude for the year past – and the year to come.
Ukrainian Malanka Celebration
Yellowknifers of Ukrainian heritage (and many who are not) have gathered for more than 30 years to celebrate the Ukrainian New Year’s Eve. The celebration is known as Malanka, which means rebirth or regeneration, and is held the closest Saturday to January 13th. It’s a traditional welcome to a New Year and spring – with food, music, polkas and waltzes, says DonnaMarie Ouellette, who teaches the Aurora Ukrainian Dancers.
For Ouellette, the highlight of Malanka is watching her dancers, especially the children, “show off their stuff” after months of hard work and practice. But she also appreciates that the multicultural population of Yellowknife braves the cold each year to see how another culture celebrates.
Delicious food is another highlight, with “full Ukrainian fare,” says Ouellette, including favourites such as Pyrohy (perogies), Kubasa (garlic sausage), Holubsti (cabbage rolls), Nalysnyky (crepes), Kutya (a first course dish of wheat, honey and poppy seed) and more.