Christmas and Native American Tradition

Christmas is a European religious custom which has seeped into the wider cultural and secular landscape. As such, you might wonder whether Native Americans observe or celebrate Christmas?

Do Native Americans Celebrate Christmas?

The fact is that many American Indians in the USA do celebrate Christmas, imbuing it with other cultural practices which strongly emphasize Native American tradition.

Many modern-day Native Americans seek, quite rightly, to maintain their own tribal cultural and historical integrity, and keeping a focus on these traditions is intrinsic to any celebration of Christmas they observe. This often results in Native and European traditions being blended, and, for example, a decorated tree may be accompanied by celebrating with American Indian dances and song.

Holiday celebrations vary widely between the 562 Native American tribes…

Winter Solstice

Indigenous people worldwide have observed and revered the Winter Solstice since ancient times. The shortest day of the year in astronomical terms, it is a time for rituals and honoring ancestors and traditions. Winter Solstice celebrations occur on either December 21 or 22. Native Americans celebrate by holding:

  • Sunset bonfires
  • Festivals
  • Dances
  • Ceremonies
  • Educational programs
  • Walks

Some Native Tribes honor deities or ancestors with prayer sticks; these are made a few days prior and ceremonially planted on the Solstice.

The Blackfoot Tribe gathers communities for dances and games, each community having its own unique styles of dance, song, and drumming.

According to Hopi belief, on the Winter Solstice The Creator travels furthest from the Earth. The Hopi hold a Prayer Offering, also known as the Hopi Soyaluna Ceremony, which involves rituals lasting up to sixteen days to entice The Creator’s return. It incorporates music, costume, dance, and gifting.

Hopi Kachina Dancers Costumed for the Soyaluna Ceremony 1893

Handsome Fellow

Several Native American Nations promote The Handsome Fellow – a kind Native man who gives gifts and candy to children at Christmas. He is based on the legend of the Creek Chief Hobbythacco.

Traditionally, chiefs were given gifts throughout the year, particularly in summer. The chiefs shared their bounty with the rest of the tribe. Some modern Native Americans have adopted Santa Claus as the mystery giver of gifts to their children at Christmas, while others encourage their kids to believe their benefactor is The Handsome Fellow.

Feasting and the Christmas Pow Wow

A Pow-Wow is when different tribes gather together to celebrate and share their cultures and to dance, sing, and compete in various pursuits. Many Pow-Wows occur at Christmas across the USA. They also enjoy feasts at Christmas as a way of expressing gratitude for their good fortune.

Christmas Pow Wow – Tulalip Tribes, Washington

Native American Carols

While some traditional European carols have been adapted by Native Americans, the Huron (Wyandot Nation) of Oklahoma and Quebec have an original Christmas carol. Sung in the Huron language, it depicts the story of Jesus in the Manger. According to Huron legend, Jesus, Joseph and Mary were Native Americans, the Wise Men were chiefs, and the nativity of fir trees was attended by a bear, a fox, and a buffalo.

Native Ornaments

Native American fetishes and other symbols make wonderful ornaments for a Christmas Tree. From authentic dreamcatchers to Hopi kachina dolls, Kokopelli to fetishes and totems – there is no better way to honor these magnificent cultures. Additionally, giving gifts like Native American jewelry is sure to be appreciated and in the spirit of the season – and purchasing authentic pieces crafted by Native American artisan directly supports the economy of their local communities.

Yáʼátʼééh Késhmish dóó Baa Hózhǫ́ǫgo Nee Nínáadoohah

(Merry Christmas & Happy New Year – Navajo Language)

From all of us at Indian Traders, we offer you our very Best Wishes for Christmas and the Holiday Season. However you observe and celebrate the Season, may it be filled with good health, prosperity and joy, and may the New Year bring good things to All.

Leave a Reply