This post reports what to expect when you attend Fairbanks’ International Friendship Day.
- An October Must-go event in Fairbanks
- What you can find at the event
- Traditional pieces from around the World on display or for sale
- International keepsakes and jewelry on sale
- Displays of traditional items
- International food for sale
- Heritage is shown with pride
- The International Fashion Pageant
- Fairbanks street style is fashion at the Last Frontier
- What I don’t like
An October Must-go event in Fairbanks
In 2018, the Fairbanks International Friendship Day made it onto the list of the Top 8 Best Alaska Fall Events. The event celebrates diversity of the Fairbanks community since more than 30 years at the Centennial Center in Pioneer Park. Pioneer Park is a cultural park displaying houses from the Gold Rush time, a bush plane museum, a river steam boat from the old pioneer times, and a museum. Pioneer Park is a must-visit for every Fairbanks visitor and the place to celebrate Independence Day every year. The Centennial Center was built in honor of the gold strike in Fox near Fairbanks. This building serves for all kind of community events, and traditionally houses the International Friendship Day.
This friendship celebration is organized by former Peace Corps volunteers and my friend Rosalind Kan and supported by various immigrant groups around town. Thus, when you happen to be in town on Friendship Day, it’s the best way to learn a lot about life in Fairbanks.
What you can find at the event
I would have quite difficulties to say what I enjoy the most of these events. The booths that show and sell items from various countries; the food booths with traditional dishes; the smell of spices and sweets in the air; the great choice of food to try. Or the show?
Various groups in town present music, dances or marshal arts from various countries. It’s amazing how many variations of belly dancing exist or the variety of instruments that look quite different from those you see at the symphony. Music ranged from symphony orchestra over drums over jazz to Chinese duets. Steal drums made from old barrels, wood drums with animal hides, string instruments with a body from a pumpkin-type fruit. Castanets that click so loud that you still hear them on the opposite site of the Center. Various groups play traditional music on instruments I had never seen before. I knew that one can fill squash skins with seeds to make noise and shake them to the beat, but using them as the body of a string instrument is quite something.
Of course, there are also singers like this Indian woman in a legnas. More on different types of Indian clothing in this post.
Of course, there are also the VIPs like the State Senators or Representatives when it is an election year. Occasionally, the Majors of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Fairbanks or North Pole show up. One year, there was even the Alaska’s First Lady, the wife of Governor Walker. In Fairbanks, you are lucky to often see high ranking political VIPs. Jane and John Doe actually have access to tickets for a Governor’s Inaugural Ball.
Impressing is also the audience. It was so diverse, you do not even see such diversity at an international airport. Probably one could have felt like in Babylon if they were not able to all speak English too.
Traditional pieces from around the World on display or for sale
Of course, there were traditional (ethnic) items from the various countries on display. Some of these items were even for sale! Russian Dolls or malachite earrings anyone? Culinary arts of several cultures were available for purchase as well. German stollen, poppy-seed filled cake, short cake (be aware it’s not a cake), European cookies (they have only a third or so of sugar of American cookies), or German raisin cake anyone? I overheard an American girl saying that this raisin bread is good. It tells you how sweet our American bread is and how cautious the Europeans are with sugar in cakes or bread. The aroma of all these goodies made the entire center smell like a mix of spices, like a supersized deli with food from all over the world. Well there were also hints of mothballs, cedar oil, and lavender.
International keepsakes and jewelry on sale
I always enjoy looking at all the traditional keepsakes and jewelry from the various countries of the world. The photo below shows some pieces from Ethiopia.
There were various food booth offering traditional hot food from Thailand (photo above), China, just to mention a few. You could also buy traditional cookies, cake and bread from Norway, Russia, and other countries.
Displays of traditional items
A common thing to all cultures seems to be that celebrations and special occasions ask for a hat. It is amazing how many ways exist to create a head cover. Learn more on the history of hats.
One of my favorite sayings is that
One never can have too many shoes.
My favorites of this collection are the silver pumps and the wood shoes. I once owned a pair and I loved wearing them with wool socks for gardening. They are so much more comfy than the plastic clogs that just produce sweety feet.
International food for sale
Performances of traditional dances
Dances encompassed styles from very sultry Argentine Tango and belly dancing, to smooth waltz, and acrobatic break dance. There were also tradional dances from Oceania, Russia, China, Cuba, Spain, the UK (Quick Step). There was even tap dance in the style of the old Charlie Chaplin movies. I was very impressed by a dancer who balanced a saber on her head. I had touched the saber prior to her dance and it was preppy sharp.
The Russian gypsy dancers move smoothly over the stage twirling their wide colorful skirts in the air like playing with an oversize van. The Polynesian dancer swings her hips to the music in a way you wonder whether she has a spin. The below the knees ruffled skirts of the flamenco dancers’ body conscious dresses move up and expose their long lean legs when they rotate fast to the music.
The Lathrop High School Ballroom Team typically performs various European and American dances. The photo above features their Snow-white Disney costume that they wore a couple of years ago when visiting and performing in Disneyland. Some of you may remember the dress. I tried it out as a costume for Dancing with the Fairbanks Stars. I like it on this young woman, but I did not like it on me. What do you think? Did she wear it better?
Watching the folklore dances and costumes teaches a lot about the different cultures and how they are influenced by their environment. Read colors of nature, local resources, weather and climate. Traditional clothes of northern countries have a lot of wool, while they are from linen, silk or cotton in countries with warmer climate (More on traditional Chinese silk cheongsams). Subtropical countries use often white fabric to stay cool. Tropical clothes have colorful prints and patterns. Clothes from colder countries have more neutral colors and use bright colors for embroidery. Northern countries also use leather a lot for men’s outfits.
The music of colder countries seems to be more melancholic, while those of warm countries is uplifting in comparison to that of southern or even Tropical countries.
Even the dances seem to be influenced by the environmental conditions and local history. My husband and I presented and Argentine Tango and a California Two Step. The former is sultry, while the later is smooth and beach fun. Recall when Argentine Tango was developed there was a lack of women in Argentina. Thus, men danced with men and a man first had to learn the woman’s part before learning the lead’s steps. California two step developed in the Californian bars in the 60s as a smooth dance to the various ballads that were popular back then.
Interestingly, all belly-dances wore net-leotards underneath of their costumes about 15 years ago. Back then I had asked one of them why they were wearing them. The answer was that the organizer required it. In the last 6 or 7 years, none of them did wear a net-leotard anymore.
My husband and I performed two dances, an Argentine Tango, and a rumba with the music of Golden Eye. Unfortunately, I had some technical issues with my camera. Thus, I can’t show you a movie of the dances as the video didn’t record. However, a friend of ours took some photos of the rumba.
Heritage is shown with pride
Even when people have been born in the US and it were their their grandparents or generation before them, they know and tell their family history. Interestingly, there are people who are 100% Russian even though it where their great-great grandparents who moved to Alaska. They came when Alaska still belonged to Russia, i.e. they actually hadn’t immigrated, but just moved. They often can be recognized by their way of dressing when you do your grocery shopping. There are some communities in the Interior where you get along with just knowing Russian.
The International Fashion Pageant
For the fashionistas and fashionister among my readers, the highlight of the show is probably the International Clothing Pageant. All the clothes presented are from closets in the community, which explains the hints of mothballs, cedar oil, and lavender. Some models showed everyday wear. Others Sunday’s Best like the Alpine regional outfit shown earlier in this post. Again others showed the festive attire to wear for holidays or weddings.
While some of the outfits repeat once every so many years, the Indian saris and other Indian clothes are brand-new each year. No hard-core, real Indian fashionista would ever wear the same outfit twice at International Friendship Day or a Diwali celebration. Since I modeled myself in the International Clothing Pageant, I asked my friends to pose backstage. There are so many beautiful traditional clothing that it is impossible to show them all. Thus, I present an overview to illustrate the diversity of fashion around the globe.
What I find interesting is that the clothes are more colorful in the countries closer to the Equator than they are for countries farther north, may be with the exception of Norwegian sweaters.
These cute little girls are wearing Thai outfits. The photo that shows a wonderfully gold embroidered cobalt blue dress is from India. The next photo presents a slim cut traditional Chinese silk brocade dress.
This young girl was more than happy to pose for photos. Doesn’t she look adorable in her traditional unique outfit. Such outfits are all hand-made. Despite the beading pattern are traditional nor two look alike. Every artist has their own style. Experts can even tell who made the embroidery. You saw Athabaskan beads embroidery on the blog before at the link. I tried this technique and it is very elaborated.
The Norwegian bunads (next 32 photos) have huge similarity with the traditional dirndls worn the Alpine regions of Bavaria (Germany), Austria and Southern Tyrol (Italy). However, there are distinct differences between the dirndl and bunad. The lobben boots are a favorite among Alaskan dog-mushers.
I love these traditional Norwegian lice sweaters and jackets. There is an unexpected history of these lice sweaters. This knitting pattern doesn’t only look great, it also is very smart from an insulation point of view. Thus, perfect for high latitude climate like northern Norway or Interior or north Alaska.
The maxi dress in the photo below could stem from one of the collections of this fall’s fashion weeks given its design with mixed prints, head piece and bold colors. Actually, the dress is a couple of years old and a traditional dress from Burkina Faso where my friend served as a Peace Corps volunteer.
The presentation was alphabetic. We were “categorized” as Germany despite my Dirndl’s actually are from South Tirol, while the pieces of my husband’s outfits stem from Austria.
Fairbanks Street Style is fashion at the Last Frontier
Dress over pants is a Fairbanks thing. Mostly over leggings or skinnies. Skinnies are an Alaska classic.
Learn more on how to wear street style chic.
What I don’t like
I am sure this point will not keep you from going to the event. It will not bother you. But it gives you a glimpse on the difficulty to pull this event off in a seamless five hour show. The dressing rooms are very small. Thus, all performers try to store their costumes in places along the walls or in corners where the baggage doesn’t bother anyone. Some of us had stored their costumes in a corner between the wall and the stair right underneath the gallery.
An angry kid who was with its parents up in the gallery threw a container of apple juice just into that corner. The juice spilled not only our bags, but also some of the hard to clean (read expensive to clean) dance costumes. Then another kid threw his food over a backpack of one of the performers just because the kid didn’t want to eat the food, but his mom insisted on him finishing the plate.
Can’t these people just put their leftovers into the trash can when they don’t want to drink/eat it anymore? Did it ever happen to you that someone – on purpose – threw drinks or food on your belongings?
You may also enjoy reading about other Fairbanks community events like the Culinary Arts Scholarship Fundraiser that helps to support UAF culinary art student scholarships or the Potato Festival that rises funds for the beautification of Downtown Fairbanks.
Photos: G. Kramm, N. Mölders, Jan Verne
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