147 Years of Celebrating Alaska Day

10/17/2014
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Alaska Day commemorates the official purchase of the territory of Alaska from Russia and, more specifically, the transfer ceremony that took place in Sitka on Oct. 18, 1867. Considering the $7.2 million-dollar price tag (about $119 million dollars in today’s currency), you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think the U.S. got the better end of the deal!

In honor of the transfer’s anniversary this weekend, here’s a highlight of some of our favorite things about Alaska:

The Alaska flag

Any person who attended grade school in Alaska is familiar with the words to the Alaska flag song, starting with “Eight stars of gold on a field of blue.” We obviously think ours is one of the coolest flags in the U.S., but what we love even more is the story behind it. Did you know that Alaska’s flag was designed by a 13-year-old student in Seward by the name of Benny Benson? In 1927, Benson entered his design in a contest to create a flag that would represent the territory of Alaska. Up against approximately 700 other entries, Benson’s simple and beautiful design stood out and the young child was forever immortalized in Alaska’s history. Describing his design, Benson said, “the blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower; the North Star is the future state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union; and the dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strength.”

Northern lights

Summer might be peak tourist season, but come to Alaska in the winter and you’ll get the chance to witness one of nature’s most incredible spectacles – the aurora borealis. More commonly known as the northern lights, this cosmic wonder resembling glowing colorful curtains dancing in the night sky has entranced humans for hundreds of years. It’s easy to see why the northern lights have spurred so many legends and inspired so many people to make trips to Alaska in even the darkest and coldest of months. Depending on auroral activity and weather permitting, the lights are visible from almost anywhere in the state, though the farther north you go the more spectacular and visible they are.

Alaska Native culture

Long before it was a territory or a state, Alaska was home to a culturally rich Native community. Still prominent today, Alaska’s Native cultures are often defined by the languages they speak. There are five distinct Native regions in Alaska: Inupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik in the Far North; Athabascan in Southcentral and the Interior; Eyak, Haida, Tsimshian and Tlingit in Southeast; Yup’ik and Cup’ik in Southwest; and Unangax and Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) in the region around and including the Aleutian Chain. Most members of these tribes still maintain traditional lifestyles in rural Alaska, keeping subsistence customs and Native languages alive. Since travel to remote villages is not always feasible for visitors to the state, two great places to gain knowledge about the Alaska Native way of life and history are the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage and the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks. Both offer wide-ranging displays of original Native art, dance, traditional clothing, tools and even a tour of traditional Native housing.

These are just a few of the things that make Alaska the great state that is. We are confident you’ll discover many more reasons on your next trip to the 49th state!