NPR via the Library of Congress
A Native American family gathers around a Christmas tree in Montana, ca. 1900-1920.

How do Native Americans Celebrate Christmas?


According to an article from NPR, Linton Weeks reports that Native communities blend their historic traditions with Christmas themes to celebrate the holiday.

The article is based on a collection of newspaper reports from the early 20th Century about Natives’ introduction to Christmas. In 1909, for example, the Tombstone Epitaph, considered the voice of the Old West since the late 1800s, reported that members of the Gila River Indian Community were “introduced to imported-from-Europe Christmas customs, such as St. Nicholas and Christmas trees.” And the Winchester News from Winchester Ky., wrote in 1910 that the Christmas tree "brought to their notice by the palefaces, caught their fancy and today… forms the center of nearly all the Indian Christmas celebrations." The December, 1904 issue of Sunset magazine shows Santa Claus with a cowboy and a Native American man.

Have some of these century-old, primarily European and commercial concepts of Christmas stuck around in Native communities today?

Deborah A. Jojola, Curator of Exhibitions at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque told NPR that the Pueblo Nations in New Mexico still celebrate Christmas in some of the same ways, through special masses and dances. But the focus of the holiday seems to be less about Santa Claus, and more about celebrating the harvest and blending “native and Catholic expressions with a single purpose — the welfare of the people.”

To read the entire article, click here.

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