I think anyone who has Native American roots has a responsibility to hold fast to them. Let’s face it, Native Americans were the caretakers of this land long before any of us were a sparkle in our parents’ eyes.
What a land it was too, abundant in beauty, green and pristine, full of food and water sources. But rather than share the gift with them, we took it for our own, displacing them from the land they held so dear. We are the bad guys! I don’t know about you, but that thought tears at my soul.
The two halves of me are constantly in conflict. No one wants to admit his or her ancestors could have been capable of such cruelty. Yet it is very likely that some of mine were. The rest have been shuffled aside, hidden, degraded and ignored in a deplorable manner.
That’s why I take any opportunity I can to celebrate Native American heritage. It is an important part of who all of us are as Americans.
At Christmas time, I usually have a tree in every room of my home, save the bathrooms of course. My kitchen tree has always been dedicated to the Native Americans.
I never got to share a traditional Native American Christmas with that part of my family. Those relatives were dead and gone long before I was old enough to understand. However, I have done some research and found some information in notes and papers handed down to me.
Some, but not all, Native Americans decorated a Christmas tree. However, it usually bore little resemblance to the traditional trees of my European ancestors.
As with everything in life, Native Americans believed in celebrating the bounty of nature and they used things from nature to decorate their trees. Lights were rarely used and there was never a need for flashy Christmas bulbs.
Instead, Native Americans used things on the tree that had meaning and import to them and their heritage. For example, instead of ornaments, you would probably see mirrors and/or dream catchers. They were meant to keep the evil spirits away on such a blessed day.
My grandfather told me that he remembered strings of cranberries and blueberries in place of the tinsel that is used today. Popcorn was also adopted in later years. Other wonderful gifts from Mother Nature, such as corn stalks, wheat and even cotton were also used for décor.
Some tribes and clans even used feathers. Still others included symbols of the animals held sacred in Native American beliefs. The most sacred was and always will be the white buffalo. I shared that myth with my readers some time ago.
It was equally common to use representations of birds and butterflies along with flower garlands or individual flowers. In Oklahoma, they used the many wildflowers that grow there.
My grandfather always said that flowers were blessings from the Creator. They were meant to inspire his people and demonstrate his abiding love. That’s why he became a florist. He truly loved plants and flowers. It showed. He grew the most beautiful greenhouse plants in Oklahoma for nearly 40 years.
I hope to share more about Native American Christmas traditions over the next couple of months. However, here let me begin by addressing the Christmas tree.
On my Native American tree I commonly use strings of cranberries and popcorn. Small gourds, corn and wheat stalks serve as ornaments along with pieces of mirror that was broken during the year. I was taught that using mirror in that way undid the curse of bad luck. However, I suspect that is a story my grandfather made up. Still, it recycles while it decorates and somehow that seems right to me.
I also use symbols and representations of buffalo, butterflies, birds and flowers to decorate my tree. I try, whenever possible to use representations of those things that are actually found in my home state of Oklahoma. The buffalo is most significant since it once roamed free on the open prarie. It was as much their home as it ever was my own.
While I don’t use any other animal representations on the tree, I do use them in a Native American nativity, which is placed at the bottom of the tree. For the top, I use a dream catcher.
Of all the trees in my home during Christmas, most people seem to gravitate toward the Native American one. It opens a dialogue about history and my home state; all things I love to share with my guests.
I hope that when I’m gone one of my children will pick up the torch and carry it forward. It is important that we never forget from whence we came and all the people who suffered and died to help get us where we are today.
Danistahohihv, which means Merry Christmas in Cherokee.