Formerly known as Eskimos, the Inuit inhabit areas of Siberia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland. Inuit descend from Mongoloid races and speak various languages. Most Alaskan Inuit occupy the western portions of the state and anthropologists believe they arrived between 6,000 and 2,000 B.C. across the Bering Strait. Today, they continue to practice various traditional celebrations and honor their cultural heritage.
The Messenger Feast traditionally demonstrated the status and wealth of a community to the surrounding communities. In the fall or winter, the community sent an invitation by messenger to neighboring communities, inviting them to a feast. The communities would exchange gifts over a communal meal and renewed trading agreements.
Quviasukvik is the combined Inuit winter festival with the traditional Western Christmas. Meaning "a time or place of joy," Quviasukvik represents one of many ways the Inuit adapted to the influence of Western culture. The community comes together to eat, share blessings and acknowledge their place in the community with each person announcing the place and season of his birth. The participants wish blessings on the community and exchange gifts. They thank Sedna, the owner of all sea animals, for the bounty of the sea. Two men dressed as women extinguish the light in every village home and new lights are lit to celebrate the coming new sun.
Igloolik occurs in mid-January as the days become longer. The festival celebrates the return of the sun. The Inuit time the festival to occur when the first flash of the returning sun crosses the horizon after long weeks of darkness. They also wear special traditional dress with symbols of both genders decorating the clothing. The markings celebrate creation.
The spring brings the nalukataq, or whale festival, where the Inuit set free the spirits of animals they've killed during the past year. The Inuit believe the animal spirits behave malevolently, so the festival ensures that the spirits move on to where they cannot hurt the people. The tribes also give thanks for successful hunting and express wishes for continued prosperity. A traditional Inuit activity during the nalukataqI includes tossing people into the air using a stretched walrus hide. Known as a blanket toss, the tradition continues to appear at Inuit celebrations.
Puvirnituq Snow Festival
The Puvirnituq Snow Festival occurs at the end of March every second year. The event includes traditional Inuit games and snow sculpting activities. In 2005, the participants carved large igloos that held 400 people, and created a five-meter high polar bear for the 2009 celebration.
Toonik Tyme Festival
The Toonik Tyme Festival is another modern festival celebrating the traditional Inuit ways. The community comes together to celebrate the return of spring with dog sled races, igloo building, seal skinning contests, community feasts and Inuit games. The festival, held in Iqaluit, began in 1965 and lasts for one week.
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