Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Native American Indians Celebrate Christmas

Celicillon Traditional Zuni Dancers Photo by Nick Pecastaing, courtesy of Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

Have you ever wondered how Native American Indian celebrate Christmas?
Before Europeans came to North America, most Native American Indians had never heard of Christmas. But they did observe a celebration new Christmas, The Winter Solstice, the longest night in the year that falls on December 21st or 22nd .  Different tribes associated different beliefs and rituals during this period of celebration.

For example, the Hopi tribe celebrated giving aid and direction to the sun, which was ready to return and give strength to new life. The ceremony lasted for 20 days and included prayer stick making, purification ritual and concluded with a rabbit hunt, a feast and blessings.

Interestingly, in the Northeast, including Canada, the Huron Indians were introduced to Christmas in the 17th century by French Jesuit missionaries. For Christmas the Indians created a Nativity scene by building a small chapel of fir trees and used bark to replicate the manger at Bethlehem. The animals at the manger were the Fox, the Buffalo, and the Bear; the Wise Men figures were dressed as Native Americans.

Pueblo Indians in New Mexico were introduced to Christmas as early as the 16th century by Priests traveling with Spanish Conquistadors. Rituals and customs that traced back to Spain were introduced by the Priest – Nochebuena – Christmas Eve and Navidad – Christmas Day, were at the center of an extended season of celebration.

In today’s world, Native American Indians celebrate Christmas much the way we do, following our family traditions. Christmas trees may be decorated a little differently; instead of lights, small mirrors are hung on a tree to keep away bad spirits and for ornaments; corn, sells and other natural things are used. And yes, there is a Native American Indian Santa Claus. He’s know by several names; The Handsome Man, an Indian brave dressed all in white buckskin who brings gifts to everyone; Snowbeard, a St Nick look-alike dressed all in red who travels with a walking stick, a bag full of presents and a wolf spirit as his companion; and Old Red Shirt, who flies in a sled and instead of reindeer has a team of white buffalo that pulls the sled.

As you can see, Native American Indian traditions are not all that different. Christmas is a time for a gathering to celebrate with family and friends and to give thanks for all our blessings.

Posted by Pat Elsaesser
Native American Indians chair

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