Colorfully preserving culture and heritage
Donning a kokoshnik and kolpak respectively, 4th-grade students Sofia Cam and Alexander Huelsman were especially sure-footed and careful as they carried the Karavai onto and off-of the Heritage Elementary School stage.
Cam and Huelsman's tow was displayed during their class' performance of "Wolf and the 7 kids and song Mother," one among nearly a dozen acts of singing, poetry and drama performed during the 23rd annual Russian Winter Festival. The 4th graders' contribution was guided under the tutelage of their teacher, Alexandra Kichatov.
"This is the biggest event during the school year; there is usually about 300 people (in attendance)," Kichatov said. "The kids really enjoy it; the parents really enjoy it; the teachers really enjoy it – showcasing our language, culture and traditions."
The acts and crafts are all a part of the tremendous festival that kindles traditional Russian culture through lessons at the school – as is the Karavai.
"For centuries, bread in Russia has been a symbol of fertility and prosperity, with a special role reserved for a round loaf, called a karavai due to its symbolic resemblance to the sun," Heritage Principal Sherrilynn Rawson shared. "The karavai was used in many traditional rituals, including weddings and housewarming celebrations.
"As part of a traditional Russian welcome ceremony, the hosts bring out a karavai on an embroidered towel and offer it to the guests or visitors."
The festival marks one of the busiest and most welcome events of the year at Heritage, where students team with their adjacent Valor Middle School peers to present their cultural lessons and classwork before a packed school gymnasium.
In addition to the performances, the event included displays of the traditional headwear (kokoshnik and kolpak), Russian folk art, dolls clad with traditional Russian costumes and clothes (as were the students), painted spoons and a variety of other colorful cultural icons.
Among the artwork was table display lined with the porcelien Gzhel, named after a locale in the Moscow region. The descriptive signage noted:
"Gzhel craftsment create products from fine white porcelien and decorate it with bright cobalt painting. Masters transfer to the product light-blue sky, blue forests and white snow. These three colors are used on the floral ornament: flowers, grass, leaves and stems that bend under the weight of berries - 'beads'"
Woodburn School District enrollment shows that there are 252 students in the k-8 Russian/English program. Rawson noted that these students put in "a lot of effort and dedication" to showcase their work for the festival.
"Because we are a tri-lingual school, we like to teach the kids about their cultural heritage," said 3rd-grade teacher Mavjuda Rabimov, whose students delivered "Punctuation Marks," in which they told about the "most important" punctuation marks in a poem, and Gzhel, a tribute to the porcelien souvenirs. "Each single class teaches one part of the culture; not just the crafts, but the history of it as well."
Kichatov's students "Wolf" and Rabimov's students' "Punctuation" and "Gzhel" were among a full slate of cultural samplings.
Others included: Natalia Afanasiev's kinder class "Out Spoons and Together with the Sun;" Russian Foreign Language School's "Malyshariki" and "Smart Songs;" Olga Amato's 2nd-graders' 5 poems by Vladimir Stepanov; Afanasiev and Ms. Lomova's 1st-grade students' 2 sweet songs about raspberry and pancakes; Natalia Sweet's kinder students' Russian folktale "Wild Geese," Masha's brother is taken by wild geese to Baba-Yaga, and she saves him.
The latter part of the program featured Consuela Stepanenko's 2nd-graders' song about the useful backpack – you can take them to school, fishing and to the forest; "Evsey" delivered by Vadim Abrashev's 3rd-grade class; Valor students' performed "Old Maple," a song that conveys "feelings of friendship, love and humanity that never grow old and are always relevant;" Alla Alfaqeeh and Dina Kosovan's 5th-graders recited three poems, "Fedora's Worry", "Luggage," and "If I were a Girl."
Rawson said many of the Woodburn area's Russians residents descend from emigrants who were forced out of their homeland hunderds of years ago and sojourned in other coutries, such as China, Brazil or Turkey, before coming this region of America. The lessons handed down to these students reflect that authentic tradition that was carried with them.
Amato said there is nothing else like it, imbuing Oregon with a truly unique culture.
"This is very traditional, and very rare," Amato said. "You don't find it; Oregon should be very proud that we have it – there's nothing more traditional than what we have here."
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