Saturday, December 7, 2013


This updated photo of a painting provided by the artist Mort Kuntsler, shows “Washington's Crossing: McKonkey's Ferry, Dec. 26, 1776."  This painting is probably a more realistic portrayal of the event, with the men on barges wearing their own clothes huddled together for warmth.
In 1659 Christmas celebrations were banned in most of the New England colonies by Calvinists and Puritans.  Massachusetts imposed a fine of five shillings for observing the day and Connecticut prohibited keeping Christmas, Saints days, reading the Book of Common Prayer, playing an instrument, or making mince pies. However, in communities with large populations of Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Moravians such as New York and Philadelphia, Christmas was celebrated.  In parts of the south celebrations included fox hunts, balls, gift exchanges and extended revelry.

Missionary Philip Fithian wrote in his diary of singing the hymns of Isaac Watts including “Joy to the World” one Christmas Eve in Staunton, Virginia but 1775 found him in western Virginia, Scotch-Irish territory “Where Christmas Morning--Not A Gun is heard--Not a Shout--No company or Cabal assembled--To Day is like other Days every Way calm and; temperate-- People go about their daily Business with the same Readiness, and apply themselves to it with the same Industry.”

In 1775 King George gave the colonies the gift of a royal proclamation effective in March 1776: all commerce and trade to those shores was closed. Congress did receive some good news when France agreed to consider supporting the rebellion against Britain.

On December 11, 1776 Washington crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania and the next day the Continental Congress left Philadelphia for a safer Baltimore.  Thomas Paine, traveling with the Continental Army wrote words that resounded when they were printed "...These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country: but he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered. Yet, we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."

 Two weeks later in the evening of Christmas Day in a nor’eastern, Washington crossed the Delaware River once again with 2400 men and led a surprise raid on the Hessian Troops at Trenton, New Jersey.  He captured 900 mercenaries and lost only six wounded, Future president  James Monroe was among the wounded.

The victory under miserable conditions and Paine’s stirring words provided a morale boost for the discouraged Continental Army and marked a turning point after repeated defeats during the summer and fall.  Washington’s troops viewed as nothing more than “rebellious farmers’ by the British and their paid Hessians had suddenly been transformed into a cohesive army to be feared and defeated.

Two hundred and thirty seven years ago what looked like it might be the end of a rebellion became a rebirth and a renewed commitment to freedom.

posted by Diane Price

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