written by Amaris Pollinger December 21, 2020

How Indigenous Peoples Celebrate The Holidays

Non-native holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas often make many tribal communities pause to reconsider if, and what, they might be celebrating. Being multicultural, with Muscogee (Creek) blood that runs deep, I often find myself in this strange gray area and the holidays are no exception, especially Thanksgiving. I mean, I love pumpkin and sweet potato everything—but should I be sitting down to a holiday whose origin is so questionable? So, how do indigenous peoples celebrate the holidays, if at all? The answer isn’t as easy as one might think. They do and they don’t. And no one tribe is the same as another. I’m here to share a bit of what I know and help you navigate the holidays a little more mindfully.

Practicing Gratitude Before It Was Cool 

For some Indigenous peoples, celebrating Thanksgiving is about basic human decency. Not colonialism, or even the first Thanksgiving feast between the Wampanoag tribe and English settlers. It’s about the celebration of gratitude and diversity among human beings. Besides, it was the Wampanoags that provided the food and the age-old ideology of gratitude. (Giving thanks before that Instagram influencer told you it was cool.)

That being said, Native tribes aren’t all the same. Each has its own stories, history, and way of life, and while some things are common among them, you can’t compare a Cherokee to a Navajo and lump them into the same category. This is why there is no easy answer for how, or if Indigenous peoples celebrate non-Native holidays. Plus, many traditions and ceremonies are sacred and not shared with anyone outside the tribe.

Happy Thanksgiving-Day !:)

For example, members of the Seneca tribe greet the dawn of November 22nd with a memorial ceremony and prayer held to honor the spirits of those who were lost to genocide. For them, Thanksgiving is a day of ceremonial remembrance and spirituality, sometimes accompanied with public mourning. Other tribes refuse to acknowledge the holiday at all, as they feel their own heritage isn’t acknowledged.

Personally, I start every Thanksgiving with an old Thanksgiving memorial, specifically honoring my matriarchal Creek grandmother for her strength, sacrifice, and fortitude.

Is Christmas a Thing? Looking on the Bright Side for the Winter Solstice

Before celebrating Christmas, Natives honored the Winter Solstice, and many still do alongside the Christian holiday. Commemoration of this day has longer roots than the recognition of Christmas. Indigenous people throughout the world paid homage to the Winter Solstice, and Native Americans were no exception. Traditionally, it’s a time for honoring the “return” of the sun (ahem, “birth of the sun”) family, the spirits of one’s ancestors, and, of course, gratitude.

Some tribes will hold Winter Solstice ceremonies where they spend a few days prior to making prayer sticks, which they’ll plant in the ground during the ceremony. Others hold days long festivals that are sacred and not for the public eye, like in the Zuni Pueblo tribes. In others, (and similarly to Christmas), there can be gift-giving with one important difference—The Handsome Fellow.

Teepees

Who Is The Handsome Fellow?

Tribes like the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, among others, choose to honor their own gift-giving mystic, The Handsome Fellow. Just like with Thanksgiving and the spirit of gratitude, gift-giving was already a large part of many tribal communities, so it’s no surprise that many adopted the European Christmas or made Santa Claus synonymous with the Creek leader Chief Hobbythacco (translating to “handsome fellow”). It was customary for people of the tribe to give gifts to their chief, and usually, the chief would happily share this same bounty with the people, particularly those in need.

Chief Hobbythacco was known for being both benevolent and kind. Legend has it that The Handsome Fellow, or Chief Hobbythacco, dressed in white buckskin as a symbol of his kindness, giving gifts to children. This was traditionally practiced throughout the year but has now become synonymous with Christmas.

It’s the Giving Season

So that “Go around the table and say what you’re thankful for” bit isn’t just a one-day way of thinking. Generations before the Wampanoag tribe sat down with English settlers—marking the “first Thanksgiving feast”—many Indigenous people were already living by the rule of gratitude.

Since this is a Native American philosophy, some have made peace with the past, and rather than celebrate the first Thanksgiving feast, the holiday is a celebration honoring the ancient practice of gratitude, creation, community, and the harvest.

The perspectives and traditions for non-Native holidays vary from tribe to tribe, and family to family within the tribe. As long as one respects the true origins and history of Native American culture, there is really no right or wrong way to enjoy the season. When celebrating any holiday, be mindful and consider where your traditions truly come from. Take into account who you are honoring, and how you can do so in a compassionate manner.

Jacqueline Keeler, a writer, activist, and member of the Dineh Nation and Yankton Dakota Sioux said it best when questioned about her decision to celebrate Thanksgiving: “It was their way [Native Americans] to give freely to those who had nothing. Among many of our peoples, showing that you can give without holding back is the way to earn respect.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Many reservations do not have the proper funding or care they need and as a result, many look forward to the holidays and the donations made possible through fantastic organizations like Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA), Association of Indian Affairs, Native American Heritage Association, Navajo Water Project, and the Native American Rights Fund, among so many others. If you truly want to make a difference in the Native American community and aid in their cause, donate to a local tribe today.

HOW DO INDIGENOUS PEOPLE CELEBRATE THE HOLIDAYSINDIGENOUS PEOPLE CHRISTMASINDIGENOUS PEOPLE HOLIDAYNATIVE AMERICAN CHRISTMASNATIVE AMERICAN HOLIDAYTHE HANDSOME FELLOWWINTER SOLSTICE 20


Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions.

Warmly,
Felina
Felina Silver Robinson
League of Women Voters Brookline, Board Member, Civic Education Coordinator, Board Liaison, Sara K. Wallace Fund for LWVB & Legislative Envoy

poetsareangels1963tobb@gmail.com
https://my.lwv.org/massachusetts/brookline
byfelinasilverrobinson.com
www.linkedin.com/in/felina-silver-robinson-712b9667


It is that of the Hopi Indians.

Did you guess right?


Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, who was the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y. He persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the “First Americans” and for three years they adopted such a day.

He was born in 1881 to parents Frederick Ely Parker who was half Seneca who was married to Geneva Hortenese Griswold who was English and Scottish, she was a teacher on the Seneca on reservation.


The Brookline Police Department, in partnership with the Brookline Police Union, Brookline Rotary and Brookline High School, is sponsoring its 2nd annual Thanksgiving Feast on Thursday November 17, 2022. Dinner will be served at 5:30PM at Brookline High School (115 Greenough St in the new Tappan Green space in the STEM Wing) and we would love members of our community to join us! Please use this form to RSVP to the feast so that we can prepare enough food. https://forms.gle/xY9cE34BVpietxBY6 We look forward to seeing you there!

Respectfully, 

Casey

Sergeant Casey Hatchett

Brookline Police Department

Community Service Division

Emergency Preparedness/CERT Coordinator

chatchett@brooklinema.gov

617-730-2256



MASHPEE — When Danielle Hill heard March 27 that her tribe’s reservation would be taken out of trust, she felt upset and resentful. She wanted to find someone to blame. Instead, she decided to light a fire and pray. Hill held a Facebook Live event and invited tribal members to stop by in solidarity while maintaining social distance. “We had that fire going for 20 days, all day and all night,” Hill said. “And people did come over.” “This would be a time in any
— Read on www.heraldnews.com/news/20200503/mashpee-wampanoag-asks-members-and-nonnatives-to-light-fire-and-pray-before-critical-court-hearing


31 January 1919, Cairo, Georgia (Birth)24 October 1972, Sanford, CT (Death)Age 53 (A Life Cut Short by Institutional Racism!)“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” Jackie Robinson

On 15 April 1947, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson broke the color line when he made his historic Major League Baseball (MLB) debut. Every year on 15 April, the League honors Jackie’s legacy by celebrating his life, values and accomplishments. The extensive and unified League-wide show of support has included retiring Jackie’s number throughout the Majors in 1997; dedicating 15 April as Jackie Robinson Day each year since 2004; and requesting that every player and all on-field personnel wear his No. 42 during games scheduled on Jackie Robinson Day since 2009. Obviously because of COVID-19 pandemic, on field tributes and celebrations are not possible this year.

However in parallel with Jackie Robinson Foundation educational initiative, MLB has several activities aimed at keeping at-home children busy while educating them on Jackie’s life. I’ve posted this message specifically for Brookline educators and other school personal to remind them that they can connect with crossword puzzles, coloring book pages, “Connect the Dot” exercises, as well as fun facts about Jackie Jackie Robinson’s life.  

No Jackie Robinson? Then there’s no Bill Fenton Russell; No K.C. or Sam Jones; No Pedro Martinez; no David Ortiz, and so on indefinitely. And quite frankly, and there’s no Bob Cousy, or Tommy Heinsohn, or Arnold “Red” Auerbach.

ArthurWellingtonConquestIII


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