In the past, winter months were times for story telling and rest. The first Americans believed that as the earth rests so should we.
Public feasts in any season of the year are of great importance to American Indians. As social events they hold the tribe together. People can meet and talk, with no distractions of work needing to be done, other than the kitchen. Their hearts are warmed by all the activity and hard attitudes soften. Feasts are also a good time for young people to see and meet each other. They break up what would otherwise be a very hard life, filled with the everyday work of staying alive.
Tribal dances are an important part of American Indian tradition. Participation in these dances sometimes prepares individuals for a task, or adds to the celebration of a particular event. The historical story of the tribe is often seen in the dances — they are very sacred to the Native Americans.
Many Native American people found that the story of Christmas and Christ’s birth fulfilled tribal prophecies and found the message to be consistent with the truth that was handed down by their ancestors.
Over time other social customs that were introduced to them by the European missionaries have become adapted to the native cultures and are an integral part of Tribal Christmas traditions today, just as they are in most non-Indian homes.
According to Huron tradition, around 1640-41, a Jesuit missionary priest wrote their first Christmas Carol. The Huron built a small chapel of fir trees and bark in honor of the manger at Bethlehem.Within a lodge of broken bark the tender Babe was found, A ragged robe of rabbit skin wrapped His beauty ‘round; But as the hunter braves drew nigh, The angel song rang loud and high: Jesus, your King is born, Jesus is born, In excelsis gloria.
The animals at the manger were the Fox, the Buffalo and the Bear. The Huron also made a traditional tent of skins and their nativity figures were all dressed as Native Americans.
Gifts and Dancing
Many tribes have the custom of a dance on Christmas Eve or Christmas, where gifts are offered at the Manger.
Other gift bringers come at different times of the year, often in the summertime, but the gifts are always a part of American Indian culture. Gifts are appropriate whenever the tribal gathering occasion is social or ceremonial.
In many other tribes there are many representations of gifts brought to the people.
God’s Gift of Life
Native Americans believe that all life is a gift from the Creator. They feel that our time on this earth is but a dance and that if you listen to the wind and the sounds of the earth, you realize that there is a song being sung each day.