Thursday at 5:45 p.m. found us on our way to the Friends Church for the community Thanksgiving feast. There was someone watching through the little door window and opened it as each person came. The benches were all arranged in long rows facing the center of the church and a large canvas tarp was spread out on the floor. As each family’s contribution was brought in, the men in charge placed it on the tarp. First the soups and meats, then the breads, then the berries and jellos, next the cakes and finally the case goods. Families were seated on the benches.
At 6:00 (or a little after) Levi began addressing the group in Inupiaq. We knew just enough of the language to understand that he was talking about how we’d returned after 25 years and that made this a special Thanksgiving. He also told them that Hans C. (he used his Eskimo name) would be coming up for Christmas. (O-o-o-o’s and a-a-a-h-h-h’s here.) Then he asked someone to lead them in prayer. After that, young men were called up to be servers. They put on aprons and waited for instructions from the two lead men on what and how to serve. Each server took a pot of soup and a ladle and began going up and down the benches, giving out one scoop of soup into waiting bowls. You eat that and soon another soup server is coming by. There is always more soup than a person could eat in one sitting, so every family brings a box of containers for the extra. The servers continue until their pot is empty, then report back to the main servers, who instruct them on what to serve next and where to go next.
If there isn’t much of something, it may be served only to the elders, or only to adults, or just one per family. The Thanksgiving feast food is carefully and thoughtfully distributed on an equal basis. This year there were 15 big pots of caribou soup, 2 of chicken soup, and 1 salmon soup. There was bear meat, cranberries, blueblerries, homemade rolls, jello and a variety of desserts, along with cases of canned goods, Pilot Bread, crackers, cookies and fruit drinks.
Levi has traveled a lot with the NANA Corporation. He’s been to New Zealand and Africa. He says that in all the traveling he’s done he’s never seen a Thanksgiving like they do it here and asked if we’d seen anything similar. We said no and he smiled proudly. We’ll be able to participate in another feast at Christmas and are looking forward to it.