January 6th is Nalujuk Night for Inuit communities throughout Labrador. This Old Christmas Day, end-of-season tradition is what Janelle Barbour of Nain describes as, “like ending it off with a big bang.” Towns are abuzz on this night, anticipating the arrival of the Nalujuit (plural for Nalujuk; also called Nalujuks)—particularly terrifying characters that are said to come in from the Eastern sea ice.
The Nalujuk is typically dressed in animal furs, seal skin boots, and a mask that’s made from animal skin, cloth, or is store-bought. In a university class paper on the Nalujuk tradition, Jannelle Barbour writes from personal experience:
Nalujuks are not real. They are like the boogey-men of other cultures. But, where this event takes place every year, everyone takes the Nalujuks to be a real thing. Most children and some adults are deathly afraid of them.
The Nalujuit seem to run at breakneck speed as they chase children around the town. Stan Nochasak of Nain says, “Nallajuit usually wear seal skin boots which are really light, tough and make you feel like you can run really, really fast and they do.” If caught, children must sing a song to appease the Nalujuk, the most common song being “Surotsit Katitse.” Jannelle Barbour writes about the chase:
Nalujuk’s night is truly a very exciting and scary time for all youth. The night starts off down to the community hall, where there are four or five people dressed as Nalujuks. These Nalujuks aren’t the ones that actually chase the children around town, trying to hit them. These Nalujuks are just there to show the younger children…what a Nalujuk is. After everyone leaves the hall, the real fun and games begin. Usually there are a lot of Nalajuks out running around, and there is always this one big and scary one, this one usually has the biggest weapon. It is really scary to get caught by this one. In Nain, there is always one spot where all the kids gather to stay safe. It’s usually on the steps of a person’s house. No one seems to mind though, seeing that this only happens once a year.
In some instances, Nalujuit go into the household and bring gifts to the children; but there are a few conditions. Stan Nochasak talks about the ways in which Nalujuit question the childrens’ behaviour: “The Nalujuit will say, ‘PiujuKattaven?’ meaning, ‘Did you do good?’ and they say it with force: ‘PiujuKattaget!’ or ‘Do good!’” The children, who are often quite terrified, will have to sing a song for the Nalujuit before they leave the home.
For children who do not get house visits, they hang stockings on the eve of January 6th, to be filled by a Nalujuk. Gifts often include knitted gloves, headbands, socks, candies, or fruit.
As Janelle Barbour suggests, the fear invoked by the Nalajuk can be very useful for parents:
Some parents use the Nalujuk as a discipline tool. They get their children to clean up their toys that they have gotten for Christmas, and if they don’t, the parents tell them that the Nalujuks will steal them for some other children.
The night, Jannelle writes, is “more of a fun and games thing for the youth these days” with close to 100 people out running the roads, despite how cold it might be. No matter the terrifying nature of the Nalujuit, the tradition remains a cherished and exciting end to the holiday season.