Lighting up the Yuletide
Residents join together for biggest gathering of the year

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

GJOA HAVEN (DEC 09/96) - It's dark and it's cold, but Christmas for residents of Gjoa Haven is one big celebration after another.

"It's a time for everyone to connect again after things have slowed down for the winter," said Dave Upton, the town's recreation coordinator.

In the past, residents made snow sculptures, which brought the community together in a competition for the best one.

"A lot of people did snow sculptures in front of their house," said Upton. "Because the community is famous for its carvers, there were some beautiful ones."

Upton said the life-size ice polar bears, angels, inukshuks and drum dancers slightly shone at night, giving the community a luminous glow. "They were really something to see," he remembers.

These days, the main Christmas attraction in Gjoa Haven is the Christmas games.

Upton said that the town is hopping with activity: events go on around the clock at the community hall, gym and arena for nearly two weeks.

"Almost everyone participates in games almost every night," said Upton.

There's outdoor games like snowmachine and dog team races, as well as indoor games such as relay races, needle threading, and drum dances.

Lena Arqviq, who is organizing the games, said it's the busiest time of the year for the community of about 700 on King William Island, well above the Arctic Circle.

Arqviq said people in the community look forward to the games all year round.

"It's like the Arctic Winter Games up here," she said. "It's like no other time of the year."

Mary Kikoak said Christmas in Gjoa Haven is special every year.

"It's one of those rare times that's for the family and the community," she said.

A dry community, Gjoa Haven is alcohol-free, even during the holidays.

According to Kikoak's husband, Eddie, the lack of alcohol makes their celebrations even more enjoyable.

"There's no one falling down while they're dancing and stuff," he said. "Everyone just has a good time."

He said that everyone is busy spending time with their family and making traditional clothing and food for their loved ones. "It's the best time of the year here."