A Native Interpretation of Christmas
Christmas for Native Americans started when the Europeans came over to Turtle Island. They taught the Indian about Christianity and St. Nicholas. While Christmas will always be a European custom, many of our Indian people have been brought up with Christianity and believe that this holiday is an Indian custom. Actually, traditional Indian culture practices the “spirit of Christmas” every day.
Traditionalists are raised to respect the star people and the most sacred one, Wakan Tanka. Every day is our Christmas. Every meal is our Christmas. At every meal we take a little portion of the food we are eating, and we offer it to the spirit world on behalf of the four-legged, the winged, and the two-legged. We pray, not the way most Christians pray, but we thank the Grandfathers and the Great Spirit.
The Indian culture is actually grounded in the traditions of a "roving angel." The lifeway’s of roving angels are actually the way Indian people live. They hold out their hands and help the sick and the needy. They feed and clothe the poor. We have high respect for the star people, because we believe that it is in giving that we receive.
We are taught as traditional children that we have abundance. The Creator has given us everything; the water, the air we breathe, the earth as our flesh, and our energy force…our heart. We are thankful every day. We pray early in the morning, before sunrise, to the morning star that guides us in the dark. We pray for our relatives who are in the universe, that someday they will come.
We do not believe in taking without asking. Herbs are prayed over before being gathered, by asking the plant for permissions to take some cuttings. An offer of tobacco is made to the plant in gratitude. Unless the root is the medicine we seek, we never pull the herb out by the root, but cut the plant even with the surface of the Earth, so that another generation will be born in its place.
In traditional way, we explain to the children that to receive a gift is to enjoy it, and when the enjoyment is gone, they are to pass it on to another child, so that they too can enjoy it. If a child gets a doll, that doll will change hands about eight times in a year, from child to another.
Every day is Christmas in Indian country. Daily living is centered on the spirit of giving and walking the “red road." Walking the red road means making everything you do a spiritual act. If your neighbor needs a potato masher, and you have one that you are not using, you offer him yours in the spirit of giving. It doesn’t matter if it is Christmas or not.
If neighbors or even strangers stop over to visit at your house, you offer them dinner. We bring out the T-bone steak, not the beans. If we don’t have enough, we send someone in the family out to get some more, and mention nothing of the inconvenience to our guests. The more one gives, the more spiritual we become. The Christ consciousness, the same spirit of giving that is present at Christmas time, is present every day in traditional Indian homes.
It is so important that these ways never be lost. We must not lose the meaning of the word “tribe." Webster’s definition is “…group of people composed of several villages, districts, or other groups which share a common language, culture, and name.”
Mitaukuye oyasin. (We are all related.)
Pte Ole (Looks For Buffalo), Floyd Hand is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. His book, “Learning Journey on the Red Road”, serves as a guide for Indigenous peoples to maintain their culture in today’s modern world.