Ken Slavin, Trading Union Manager, serves a Tom and Jerry drinks upstairs at the store. Photo/Angela Denning

Ken Slavin, Trading Union Manager, serves a Tom and Jerry drinks upstairs at the store. Photo/Angela Denning

People all over Alaska are celebrating the holidays whether it’s Christmas on December 25 or Russian Orthodox New Year’s next month. The small island town of Petersburg in Southeast has a tradition all its own. It’s called “Julebukking”. It’s a Norwegian tradition but one that Petersburg residents have made their own.
It’s a usual gray-sky day in Petersburg but the downtown is filled people milling around in colorful jackets. The hum of their chit chat fills the air as they stand in lines waiting for free food and drinks. It’s all being handed out at local businesses.

Autumn Laughlin lives with her husband on a boat at one of the harbors and describes their day so far.

Laughlin: “Let’s see, we went shopping, then we stopped by Papa Bear’s, grabbed some pizza, had a cookie,then we went and saw the line here so we dropped off our shopping gifts on the boat, bought some other stuff at the drugstore and Diamante’s, came back, and the line was still around the corner so, it’s quite popular it seems.”
Denning: “And this is the Wells Fargo Bank, the line that we’re in right now. Any idea what’s inside?”
Laughlin: “No but it’s like the Bermuda Triangle, people go in and they don’t seem to come out so, it must be good (laughs).”

People fill their plates inside the Wells Fargo bank in Petersburg. Photo/Angela Denning

People fill their plates inside the Wells Fargo bank in Petersburg. Photo/Angela Denning

It’s kind of like mixing last minute shopping with Norwegian gluttony.

Traditional Norwegian Julebukking is more like Halloween where people go house to house in costumes and get food and drink as they go. For 7-year-old Addison Bird, it’s about the cookie she’s eating while waiting in line for more treats.

Denning: “Where did you get the cookie?”
Bird: “Papa Bear’s”
Denning: “Well, why did they give you a cookie?”
Bird: “Because it’s the day that we always get to grab free drinks and free meals.”
Denning: “Do you know what people call that day?”
Bird: “Julebukking.”
Denning: “What do you like best about this day?”
Bird: “Because Christmas is coming up!”

The Oxford Carolers perform Christmas songs upstairs at the Trading Union. Photo/Angela Denning

The Oxford Carolers perform Christmas songs upstairs at the Trading Union. Photo/Angela Denning

Don Tripp stands in the same line. He’s been Julebukking on and off in Petersburg for over 20 years. He says it’s a great opportunity to talk with people you don’t normally see.

“Just because you’re standing in line and visiting with people and spreading Christmas cheer and that’s what it’s all about,” Tripp says.

Tripp is waiting to enter the Wells Fargo bank. He’s heard there might was some seafood inside but he says it doesn’t matter.

“It’s all good,” says Tripp.

Joyce Bergmann agrees.

“Oh, it’s going to be awesome,” she says.

Bergmann is standing a little further down the line.

“They always have wonderful food and wonderful smiles and wonderful eggnog,” she says laughing.

Bergmann has lived in Petersburg for decades and although it’s a small town of 3,000, she says everyone has their own lives.

Bergmann: “You don’t always see all the people that you know and it’s the perfect opportunity to say ‘Hi’ and wish them Merry Christmas and reconnect.”
Denning: “I’m talking to you on December 23rd and Julebukking continues all day today and again on Christmas Eve. What does that mean for you? Are you going to see it through?”
Bergmann: “Oh, for me? Pastrami sandwiches at the drugstore is always my number one on Christmas Eve.”

The next day, the Rexall Drugstore line goes out the door and down the block but everyone is still smiling.

People wait in line inside the Rexall Drugstore on Christmas Eve. Photo/Angela Denning

People wait in line inside the Rexall Drugstore on Christmas Eve. Photo/Angela Denning

The drugstore has been Julebukking for 45 years. One of the pharmacists, Kate Kowalski, is helping hand out pastrami sandwiches as she’s done her whole life. Her dad owns the store.

“I don’t know if I block it out, the number is so ginormous in my brain that I can’t even fathom that it’s really coming out of my mouth when I say it,” Kowalski says. “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Max for that one so.”

Max Worhatch doesn’t know either.

“It’s probably three-four tons, I have no idea,” says the 81-year-old.

Worhatch is originally from the East coast. While many local businesses feature seafood pastrami sandwiches were his little Julebukking niche. Back when he started in 1969, it was a much smaller affair.

“Oh, maybe 25-30 people and they sort of mingled and that was in a day when it was socially acceptable to get snockered the day before Christmas,” Worhatch says.

While many businesses still serve alcoholic drinks, the drugstore has focused on food …and a lot of it.

Lenore Mathisen receives pastrami for her sandwiches from Greg Kowalski. Photo/Angela Denning

Lenore Mathisen receives pastrami for her sandwiches from Greg Kowalski. Photo/Angela Denning

“According to Paul Anderson, he does the official counting down there, but uh, Paul was telling me this year it was up pretty close to a thousand servings went out,” Worhatch says. “So we consumed all the 240 pounds of pastrami, and a 130-some loaves, he counts all this stuff, he’s the statistician. Like I say, I really care less about that, long as I have some joy in my heart. It just makes me feel good that we can do that for the people of Petersburg.”

For local residents a full stomach amidst holiday cheer will help sustain them until Julebukking happens again next year.