Community celebrations were - and still are - held to honor the spirits of animals killed in the hunt. Alaska Natives share a belief in the reincarnation of both people and animals. By honoring the animal spirits, they hope to ensure success in future hunting seasons.
The Cup’iks traditionally held a “bladder festival” every year in November or early December. They believed that the spirit of the seal lived in the seal's bladder, and hunters would carefully remove and store the bladders of the seals they killed throughout the season. After the festival, the seal spirits were returned through the ice to the sea, so they would come back the following year.
In Arctic Alaska, the Nalukataq whaling festival is held by the Iñupiaq people in spring following a successful whaling season to appease the spirits of deceased whales so that they will return in the form of new whales the next season. In addition to dancing, singing and food, the whaling festival includes a tradition familiar to some visitors - the blanket toss. While it's now conducted as entertainment, it didn’t originate that way. An Iñupiaq hunter would be tossed in the air, enabling him to see across the horizon to hunt game. During today's celebrations, thirty or more Iñupiaq gather in a circle, holding the edges of a large skin made from walrus hides, and toss someone into the air as high as possible. The person being tossed throws gifts into the crowd and loses their turn when they lose their balance. The object: to maintain balance and return to the blanket without falling over.