Here’s hoping you all had a wonderful Christmas, filled with beauty, gifts and all things good.
Of course, during the Christmas season, there’s the rush to get everything done — all the food shopping done, gifts bought and wrapped, cookies made, pies made, cakes made and decorated, rush…rush…rush…
But once we’ve settled down a bit, gifts having been bought, everything wrapped, food prepared, and the magical day having come when those special people open their presents, it’s time to sit back, and look at this season with kind eyes, because at the heart of the season is real beauty. When I did so, I began to think about how different it was in the American Indian’s way of life. The ideas of gift giving were so different from today’s, that I thought I might take a moment to share my reflections with you.
In the days of old, before the white man came to this country and influenced the American Indian into other traditions, giving gifts to others was a point of survival. No chief could become chief who did not give to the needy and the less well to do. Often the chief of the tribe was the poorest person in their society because he gave away almost all that he had to the needy. However, contrary to the more modern point of view, this was not a Socialist system, nor a pure socialism, because the giving was never regulated and never mandatory, and one knew exactly who was receiving the gift. In those old days, only the strong, the wise and the kindhearted could be counted on to give, and it was considered one of the most aspired-to attributes.
Actually, it requires a bit of mind change to grasp the American Indian idea of giving. If a man attained a higher state or did some great deed, he was not given something by the tribe, but rather, he gave gifts to others. If a woman attained some desired state (a young girl attaining puberty for instance — or an older woman being praised for her handicraft) she and her relatives worked night and day to give gifts to others. An example of this might be this: Say it is your birthday, but instead of you getting gifts on your birthday, you and your relatives would work for months and months in order to have a feast, where one would give to the community in celebration of something one attained (the birthday). This was considered the highest honor one might place upon a family member.
This tradition is still carried on in Native America today. When a family wishes to distinguish one of its own, members of the family will work for many months (sometimes years) to produce goods, not for oneself, but to give away to others — in honor of the family member. In this manner, we have an example of giving something that cannot be measured in terms of finance. The gift of caring, the gift of giving of oneself and one’s time for another.
These presents in Native America weren’t wrapped. Sometimes the offerings were simply in the form of food or clothing or blankets. Sometimes, in the case of a marriage or some other big event, items such as a tepee were donated to the cause (remember in the movie, Dances With Wolves and the tepee the star of the movie was given?) When one couldn’t give because one didn’t have the wherewithal to do so, that person might give away all that he had. In this way such articles were kept afloat in the society. Sometimes one bestowed the very best possession that he most treasured, especially so if there were a sickness in the family and one wanted to ensure their beloved family member recovery. Sometimes the donation was in the form of gifting a service to one’s people. Certain societies had stringent rules about bundles or other sacred items and most people didn’t wish to take the responsibility of seeing to the care of these items (such as becoming a bundle holder.) In this case the bequest would be in the form of the entire family taking on the responsibility, in order to preserve the spiritual traditions of the people.
This picture was taken at a give-away celebration that my friend, Patricia gave many years ago. Another aspect to the American Indian’s way of thinking, was that it was considered a great honor if one gave in such a way that the other person didn’t feel they had to return the favor. This happened to George Catlin in the 1830’s when a young warrior bestowed him with the diary that Catlin had lost. The giving was done in such a way that Catlin was unable to give-back, since he was embarking upon a ship.
There is yet another example of giving by the American Indian comes to us from the Iroquois. The Iroquois (which was composed of originally 5 tribes and eventually 6) had a system of government that was truly Of the people, For the people, and By the people. Men served and were never permitted to draw any kind of pay for serving — it was simply considered their duty and their way of helping the tribe. Such service is still in operation today.
I’d like to disagree with corporate America for a moment if I might. I think the most potent gifts are those that one cannot measure by physical means. When my kids were growing up, they used to give me coupons for Christmas — I still have them to this day — little chores they would do for me upon presentation of the coupon. I guess the point is that one can always give something of themselves to another.
And here’s the most beautiful gift of all — something that those who crave material wealth over all else will never understand nor will they ever receive this gift (though some might pretend an affection) — the gift of love — true love. No gold, no silver, can ever replace these gifts, since they have their roots in one’s heart and one’s nature.
And so, I would like to make this wish during this upcoming New Year’s season: That the reasons for war — and the profit received from war — will perish from this earth.
And with this thought in mind, I leave you with a YouTube video of a song performed by Keith Whitley (who I believe is one of the best country singers to every grace the stage).