Steven John Of Mentasta Recalls Christmas: Stories All Night Long

When It Was Christmas...They Had A Party For Two Or Three Days And You Might Get A Pair Of Canvas Gloves Practical, homemade functional foot...

When It Was Christmas...They Had A Party For Two Or Three Days And You Might Get A Pair Of Canvas Gloves

Practical, homemade functional footwear by Sophia Lincoln. (Journal photo file)

Steven John of the Upper Copper Valley looked back at the past in 1996 and spoke with the Country Journal about what life was like back in the old days. Christmas was a real community event, with everyone coming together. The dog teams came in off the trapping trails for Christmas.  In the old winter traditions, Steven John's father used this time of year to tell his children important historical tales. This went on into the new year. All over the world at that time, including in the Copper Valley, Christmas was a time of togetherness, holiday foods, and simple, but meaningful presents. (The slippers shown here were by Sophia Lincoln of Copper Center; we chose to show them because they illustrate how Ahtna women made their families not just beaded footwear and mittens, but also everyday items, as described in Steven John's remembrances.)

This is Steven John's memory of a very different, yet beloved Christmas:


"When it was Christmas, you cooked a feast. You cooked everything; the whole village donated. 

"They had a party for two or three days. They started one week before Christmas – 20th of December. The old people, like my Dad, they started telling stories all night until New Years. When he stopped after New Year, then the next year he asked, "Where did we stop?" And he remembered where he stopped, and he'd start again. For a whole week. I still miss that. 

"They had dry food. Apples and prune and raisin. You boil it. I still do it, myself. 

"The Christmas tree got no light. You put candy canes on the Christmas tree. And all the presents. You might get a pair of socks. Some homemade. And then you might get a pair of canvas gloves. Sometimes the moose skin slippers. 

"There were no toys. They'd get candy. Everybody who had a dog team, who came here for Christmas, the village people donated dog food."

– Steven John, Batzulnetas and Mentasta, Alaska


Country Journal Christmas 643009033736804204

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