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Archive for December, 2011

A Native American Christmas

Native American Christmas Traditions

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.

Christmas Carols

 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.

Merry Christmas!

Wanikiya tonpi wowiyuskin! (Merry Christmas in Lakota)

How blessed are we all! To be children of the King. To be participants in His work here on earth. To experience both the good and bad that life has to offer in order to become more like our Savior. Those are all incredible gifts. What’s even more incredible is the fact that God loved us all enough to send His Son so that through Him we might live!

 I love this time of year. I love the music and the movies and hot chocolate and spending time with family and friends. I enjoy cold weather and cozy nights spent in front of a roaring fire (at a friend’s home – I don’t have a fireplace!). I’m a believer in creating memories and enjoying warm fuzzy feelings. But I have to remember that none of those things even compare to what Christmas truly means.

 Christmas is about Christ…who He is and what He did for us. It’s about realizing that we have the same responsibility…to give up our lives for others. I truly love each one of you and my gift to you is this. I will pray for all of you this season. My prayer is that we all take a good look at ourselves and ask God if we are taking advantage of His miraculous gift of life. Are we truly living? Are we living life His way or our way? Are we imitating Christ by laying our lives down for someone else?

 I hope your Christmas season is filled with treasured memories. But more than this, I hope your life becomes a reflection of His and that Christmas is more than just a season but a way of life! Aabita Biboo to everyone! (Merry Christmas in Ojibwe (Chippewa) )

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