American Indian Christmas Customs

Manataka® American Indian Council

 

 

 

FEATURE STORY

 

 

 

 

 

American Indian Christmas Customs

© 1999-2003 by Maria Hubert. All rights reserved

 

 

Many of the AmerIndian peoples have been Christianized for several hundred years. Over this time customs which were introduced to them by the missionaries have become adapted and are an integral part of the traditions, especially around the Christian festivals of Easter and Christmas.

Many Tribes, including the Laguna Indians, who accepted Christianity some 400 years ago, have the custom of a dance on Christmas Eve, where gifts are offered at the Manger. There are many examples of representations of the Christmas Crib where the glad tidings are brought to braves in the fields by the great Thunderbird; or scenes with the wise men being replaced by the chiefs representing the great Nations.

Handsome Fellow

 

There is a mysterious fellow whom I have been told about on several occasions. He is a handsome brave who wears white buckskins, and brings gifts. His name, appropriately is 'Handsome Fellow'. I would love to tell you more about him, but so far no-one has come forward with that information! Other gift bringers come at different times of the year, often in the summertime, but the gift bringing element is definitely part of the American Indian culture. 

 

The First Christmas Carol

 

Huron AngelsAccording to Huron tradition, their first Christmas Carol was written by a Jesuit missionary priest, Fr Jean de Brebeuf, around 1640-41. The Hurons had a particular devotion to Christmas. Fr Brebeuf wrote about the devotions they had. He said that they built a small chapel of fir tree and bark in honour of the manger at Bethlehem. This became the 'stable' where Jesus was born. Some travelled as much as two days to be there for the Christmas celebration.

 

The Huron Carol has become a well known and much loved carol today. The original was written in the Huron tongue, with a symbol like a figure '8' to represent a vowel sound not common in the English tongue. This sound was 'ou' .

 

Estennialon de tson8e Jes8s ahatonhia
Onna8ate8a d'oki n'on8andask8aentak
Ennonchien sk8atrihotat n'on8andilonrachatha
Jes8s ahatonhia

 

The original words were written in French and Huronian. The carol we all sing today was an Huron Chiefs from afarinterpretation of the original, and not a translation. There were five verses. The first verse is as follows:

Chrétiens, prenez courage,
Jésus Sauveur est né!
Du malin les ouvrages
A jamais sont ruinés.
Quand il chant mervielle,
A ces troublants appas
No prâtez plus l'orielle:
Jésus est né, In excelsis gloria!

At the third verse, the chiefs would process solemnly towards the little chapel, bearing gifts for the christchild:

Voici que trois Rois Mages,
Perdus en Orient,
Déchiffrent ce message
Encrit au firmamente:
A'Astre nouveau les hante
Ils la suivront lá-bas,
Cette étoile marchante:
Jésus est né: In excelsis gloria!

 

Amerindian Christmas Cribs

Many lovely cribs have been made by American Indians. Keena Cribs from Canada are wonderfully hand painted clay crib with the chiefs of the Plains, Forest and Inuit Tribes bringing gifts. The animals at the manger are the Fox, the Buffalo and the Bear. The Hurons made a traditional tent of skins and their figures were all dressed as native Americans. I have in my own collection a colourful wool nativity made by the Hopi tribe, with the Thunderbird bringing the glad tidings, which I purchased from Wallys Christmas Wonderland in Michigan, some years ago. One of the loveliest scenes I have ever seen is a painting by Yellowman. It appeared in a copy of the Augsburg Christmas Annual some years ago. 

http://www.christmasarchives.com/amerind.html

 

 

 


 

EMAIL          HOME          INDEX          TRADING POST