Native Traditions to Celebrate on Christmas Day


If you are celebrating Christmas with family and friends today, it’s not too late to consider adding one or a few of these Native Christmas traditions to your busy holiday schedule.

Many tribal members choose to mix European Christmas traditions - such as Christmas trees and sharing Bible stories - with Native customs to honor Indian heritage as well as Christian beliefs.

From, the following list is a small sample of Native American Christmas traditions observed by some tribes.

The Handsome Fellow

Many cultures have a “friendly figure” who treats children to candy and gifts during Christmas. For many Native Americans, this gentleman is known as the Handsome Fellow.

Legend refers to a Creek leader named Chief Hobbythacco, which translates to English as ‘handsome fellow.’ He was part of the diplomatic efforts in Colonial America and would bestow other tribal chiefs with gifts to share among their people. Some American Indians encourage children to believe that the Handsome Fellow is responsible for leaving presents on Christmas Day, while others believe Santa comes to visit.

The Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice has always been a reverent period for Native people all over the world during the Christmas season. It's a time to offer gratitude, honor family and ancestors, and follow a ritual observance of beliefs.

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The fact that Theological historians also place significance on this same time period for the date of Christ's birth makes the Solstice a vital component in holiday celebrations. A few days before Solstice, members of some tribes make prayer sticks in honor of an ancestor or native deity. They plant the sticks during a ceremony on the Solstice.

Check various American Indian museums in the U.S. for Solstice celebrations. Many state museums, as well as the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. hold events.


Numerous Native American tribes host dances on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Celebrations can include a manger scene and a recreation of the Wise Men offering gifts to the Christ child.

Some Natives observe the similarity between the Chiefs of the Great Nations and the Wise Men; and the act of bestowing gifts onto the newborn babe to that of the Great Thunderbird offering gifts to braves in the fields.


The holidays are always a time to give thanks and Native Americans have a variety of delicious dishes that are worth a try. has a nice selection of traditional Native American recipes.


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