Early History of Christmas in Native American Communities

The origins of Christmas may stem from several events based on different religious and cultural beliefs, such as the Celebration of Yule, the integration of St. Nicholas, the birth of Jesus Christ, or the recognition of Winter Solstice. When European settlers came to the Americas and discovered the existence of Indigenous peoples who had never heard of these things, they made it their mission to introduce these concepts as a pathway to build trust, integrate and subvert the traditional ways of Native Americans.

Today, Christmas is celebrated in many diverse ways and is considered one of the most celebrated holidays throughout the world. So, how did the early Native Americans celebrate Christmas?

It’s been said that winter is the season of stories. In the past, winters restricted the amount of movement tribes could make, so they would gather resources and do the best they could to hold out through the season. During this time, celebrations of the Winter Solstice took place as well, and more often than not families and friends would gather around a fire and tell origin stories, tales of spirits, and other anecdotes.

After the introduction of Christmas,  tribes in the east, west, north and south developed unique ways to celebrate the holiday. One of the earliest recorded instances of tribal participation in Christmas happened in the 1600’s when a Jesuit priest helped the Huron people write their first Christmas carol. Singing has always been a large part of Indigenous cultures, and even in this new tradition, they integrated old customs.

Many tribes also saw Christmas day as part of the story of Jesus and a prophecy being fulfilled. Today, you will find many examples of traditional ways and Christianity joined in different denominations of beliefs. The communal nature of tribes is still very important in many celebrations, reminding people to celebrate and take care of one another with kindness and compassion.

Regardless of the origins of Christianity in Native culture, and many of the intentions when it comes to colonizing the tribes, we can still see the value of the holiday. Christmas brings an opportunity to reflect on shared values of gratitude, compassion, charity and joy.

Today, the holiday is celebrated through singing, dancing, sharing, eating and giving. The ways our ancestors celebrated Christmas and how we continue to celebrate today shows that our culture can adapt and has the room to celebrate and be accepting of new traditions, stories and legends, no matter who held them.

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