Thanksgiving & Festivals — First American Style

It’s November, a time when we tend to cuddle up and look ahead to the holidays.  It’s a time of Thanksgiving.

I’m sure all of you know that our Thanksgiving comes from the Eastern Indians, and in particular Squanto — and if you didn’t know about Squanto, I would highly recommend the movie, Squanto, starring a young and dreamy Adam Beach.  Sigh…

But what was this festival called Thanksgiving?  Did it happen just this one time?  Was it due to the Indians’ wishing to acknowledge the newcomers, as I was often taught in school?  Was there more to it?  Well, do read on.

Thanksgiving was one of several festivals amongst the Eastern Indians — in particular I’m talking about the Iroquois because this is a tribe that I have recently studied and so can write somewhat scholarly about it.  But these ceremonies were common to all the Eastern tribes.  There were many festivals throughout the year, and they tended to follow the seasons. 

The Iroquois celebrated six festivals, wherein they gave thanks to the Creator for all they had.  These festivals would open with speeches by leaders, teacher, etc.  And of course there was much dancing, which was done not only for the fun of simply dancing, but it was also a sense of worship.  It was thought that the Creator needed some sort of amusement, thus He gave the people dancing.

In spring — early March — it was time to collect together tree bark and sap — this was needed to repair houses and other things, such as canoes, bowls, etc.   Spring was also the time for planting.  This was the maple festival.  Next was the Planting festival.  Here prayers were sent to the Creator to bless their seed. 

  The Iroquois’ main food source was corn, beans and squash (the three sisters).  Family gardens were separated by borders that were broad and grassy — they would even camp on these borders and sometimes they were raise watch towers.

The next festival of the Iroquois was the Strawberry Festival.  This is where the people gave thanks to the Creator for their many fruits (like strawberries).  It was summertime.  The women gathered wild nuts and other foods, while the men hunted, fished and provided various meats for cooking.  Again, each festival was greeted with much dancing and merriment.  Did you know that the some Iroquois believed the way to the Creator was paved with strawberries?

The next fesitval was the Green Corn Fesitval.  Again, the Creator was thanked for the bounty of food that had been raised all through the summer.  Dancers danced to please the Creator and musicians sang and beat the drum.  Again there were many speeches to honor the people and the Creator.  There were team sports.  Lacrosse was the game that was most admired and it was played with great abandon by the men.  Women played games, too and often their games were as competitive as the men’s.

The next season festival was…are you ready?  Thanksgiving — or the Harvest Thanksgiving.  By this time the women had harvested the corn, beans and squash.  Much of it would be dried.  Much went to feed families.  Husks were made into many different items.  Dolls, rugs, mats.  Did you know that the dolls didn’t have faces?  Now was the time to gather more nuts and berries.  Men were busy, too, hunting far away.  Bear, moose, beaver were all sought after and hunted.  Again, there was much celebration.  Dancing, speeches, prayer.  And of course — food.  It was this particular festival that was shared with the newcomers to this continent.

Can you guess what the next festival was?  Although this is a Christmas tree, it was not a celebration of Christmas — but if you guessed this, you were very close.  The next and last festival of the year was New Year’s.  At this time, a white dog was sacrificed as a gift to the Creator.  This was also a time for renewing the mind and body.  (Does that not remind you of our New Year’s resolutions?)  At this time, the False Face Society members would wear masks to help others to cleanse themselves of their bad minds and restore only their good minds.  There was again much celebration, much dancing, much merriment and enjoyment as each person would settle in for the long winter ahead of them.

The First Americans indeed did give this country very much, not only its festivals which we still remember to this day, but also it gave to this nation a fighting spirit for freedom.  In these times when there seems to be uncertainty ahead of us, there is still much for us to be thankful for.  I know I am thankful for my family and my husband and daughters.  I’m thankful to be able to travel this beautiful country.  I’m thankful to be able to voice my opinions and for living in a country where I am still able to be who I am.

How about you?  What are you thankful for?  What has influenced your life for the better?  And what will you be doing for Thanksgiving this year?

I am away from home and so will be away from family and loved ones at this time of year.  I’ll be celebrating with friends this year.  How about you?

And don’t forget, if you haven’t already done so, to pick up your copy of THE LAST WARRIOR or RED HAWK’S WOMAN today.





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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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30 thoughts on “Thanksgiving & Festivals — First American Style”

  1. Hi Karen! Wow – didn’t know about the Native American’s tradition of celebrations – fascinating.

    I absolutely love Thanksgiving – it’s my favorite holiday. There’s no pressure to run around and buy the ‘perfect’ gift. It’s just friends and family celebrating another year together. I am most thankful for my family and the incredible years we’ve spent together – here’s to another one!

    Hope you have a terrific holiday.

  2. Hi Maria!

    So nice to see you here on the forums today. The festivals of the Eastern Indians is really fascinating, isn’t it?

    I love this time of year, too!

    Have a wonderful holiday!

  3. Fascinating information, Karen! Thank you for sharing!! I’ll be going to my mom’s this year. We usually spend the first part of the day with at my mom and the second part with my hubby’s family, thought this year our plans have changed. Just last week my father-in-law found out his cancer is back and he’s having surgery today, so we’ve postposed the family thanksgiving to next week, when hopefully my father-in-law can enjoy the holidy with us. I’m certainly thankful for the good health of my family and the medical care my father-in-law has been receiving.

  4. Yesterday was a very sad day for me and my family. We had a funeral for my sister-in-law who was too young, 62, and too full of life to die. Very shocking.

    Right now, I’m thankful for the years we had with her and I’m thankful for my loved ones who are with me and blessed with good health. And I’m more determined than ever to appreciate them.

  5. hi Kay! how much I learned today. Thank you. Having taught American Lit for a long time, I also learned a lot about Squanto…and the Iroqois. Their constitution is the basis for our own! But I did not know about all these festivals.

    The big deal in my hometown is our Strawbery Festival. That’s a beautiful image, pathway to the Creator paved with strawberries. I am a dog lover though so the white dog sacrifice made me sad. 🙁

    We always have a houseful on Thanksgiving. This year we meet our daughter’s future in-laws for the first time. Yes, I’m a tad nervous. I am dearly thanksful for my family, my two-year old grandson, and my husband’s full return to good health after a dreadful illness earlier this year.

    Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! At our house, it’ll be the best one ever.

  6. Mary, Thank you so much for telling us and sharing with us. I do understand the shock and loss. I, too, lost an in-law this year and a very dear one, my brother-in-law, only he was even younger than your sister-in-law. He died at the age of I believe it was 56 or 57 — much, much too young to die.

    My sympathy goes with you.

  7. Hi Tanya!

    Your in-laws will love you. I met my new in-laws for the first time just recently, as well — with the wedding of my daughter in October.

    They are wonderful people. I’m sure you’ll find your wonderful, as well.

    Have a truly wonderful Thanksgiving.

  8. Kay,

    You always have the most amazing blogs. I love learning all the various things about the American Indian, things I never knew or even guessed. You always bring something new to the table when you blog.

    I’m going to spend Thanksgiving with my son, daughter-in-law and two granddaughters. Lord, if I listed each thing I’m thankful for, my list would be a mile long. But the main thing I’m thankful for is that I have my family and we care deeply about each other.

    Mary, I’m so sorry about your sister-in-law. That’s terrible. I’m praying you’ll find peace and strength to get through these trying times.

    Great blog, Kay!

  9. Hi Karen!
    I’ll be going to 2 seperate Thanksgivings (my parents are divorced)… I’ll be going to my mom’s house and her boyfriend’s family is coming over and I’ll also be going to my dad’s parents house where all of his family is… so there is going to be a lot of food at each house and a lot of family time! lol It’s going to be a busy day!

  10. Hi Linda!

    Thank you so much for your comments and compliments. Of course I feel the same about your blogs, as well.

    Yes, I am very thankful for family and love — most of all.

    Thanks again, Linda!

  11. Hi Danielle!

    So nice to see you here on the blog. Goodness, sounds like your Thanksgiving is going to be very busy, and very blessed. : )

    Have a wonderful day!

  12. Fascinating history, Karen! Thanks for reminding us how rich the Indian culture is and what they’ve shared with the rest of us. I’m thankful for good health, family, friends and our freedom. Enjoy the holidays!

  13. Hey – I did a research on the Iroquois when I was in High School many many years ago. I still have the paper filed away as I got an A on it. I knew about these festivals from it. I am going to have to get that DVD Squanto to watch. I added it to my list of DVDs to look into.
    As I wrote you in email, we celebrated on Sat. so Thomas’ kids could be with us as he doesn’t have them this week. I had so much to be thankful for. After two years, I am not using a wheelchair to get around. Last year my husband had to cook Thanksgiving and he is a great cook. But this year we worked as a team and it was like when we were first married 29 years ago.
    I am also thankful to have met and gotten to know you. We have had some great chats and I’m so thankful for that. Even though my oldest daughter could not be with us, I called her on same day we celebrated so I would feel we had a celebration with the whole family. I am so thankful for her job and new boyfriend who makes her happy. I am thankful my Mother is still here because it is questionable how much longer we will have her. I do not get to celebrate with her and her mind is confused so it is hard. But I am still thankful for her.
    After two years of surgeries, I am thankful to not be in a hospital.
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. When I lived in Arizona, my husband and I always had Air Force people over for Thanksgiving because they were away from family. May you have an extended family to celebrate with.
    By the way it took me sometime to realize your blog was on Petticoats and Pistols – I checked out Western Romance first.

  14. Hi, Karen,

    Fascinating stuff today! I, too, have learned so much from you, our Native American expert!

    Thanksgiving for us will be a bit quiet. My parents are in New Mexico, and Katie and her family will go to in-laws. The other 3 daughters will be here, tho, and that will be something special, as always.

    One thing we’re doing which I’ve never done but have always wanted to is we’re going to spend the morning at the Salvation Army compiling food boxes for the needy. I’m quite excited. I’m sure it’ll be an eye-opener, and I hope we come home with a new perspective on our blessings.

    I hope you enjoy your holiday without your family, Karen. You sound quite upbeat about it!

  15. Karen. . .

    Great blog. I love hearing of American Indian rituals.

    Pam. . .What a great way to spend Thanksgiving morning. I to have always wanted to do that, but family obligations always got in the way, especially with my 98-year-old Mom. She loves the Thanksgiving Day parades, and I always buy a couple of jelly donuts (her favorite food), grill some sausage links and put together some fruit cups and we watch the parades together.

  16. Hi Kay,
    Wonderful info on Thanksgiving today! Will this be your first time away from family during Thanksgiving, Kay?

    Hugs and prayers to Mary and family. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. 62 is young and it’s always so hard around the holidays to lose someone. Much love to your family.

    Hugs to Stacey too. My prayers are with you and yours for a healthy outcome for your father-in-law.

    Pam – What a great way to give back to your community and to help others! Enjoy your day. I’ve wanted to do that one year, but like Pat, family obligations have always prevented it.

  17. Hi Jane!

    It’s wonderful to hear from you — and on the blog, as well. Your Thanksgiving celebration sounds fairly perfect, even though your oldest daughter wasn’t there — thank goodness for telephones.

    I’m thankful that you are no longer in the wheelchair, also, and that you were able to help your hubby with Thanksgiving dinner. I was away from home at this time last year, as well — it’s always so strange because I have almost always been the one to fix Thanksgiving dinner.

    This year I’ll be celebrating with friends.

    Have a wonderful holiday!

  18. Hi Pam!

    What a terrific thing to do for Thanksgiving morning. Like Pat, I am usually so much in the kitchen for Thanksgiving that I seldom have time to do anything but cook and bake.

    When I’m home, we usually combine Thanksgiving with a movie,as well.

    Have fun, Pam. So well done for doing this.

  19. Hi Charlene,

    Thank you for your thoughts — no, I was away from home last year as well. It was really really tough last year, as I am used to being the one doing all the cooking and putting things together. And I usually have several people over. It was so very, very odd to be alone last year — that’s why this year, I’ll be with friends, otherwise, it’s just too strange and lonely.

    One thing I should add — I’ll be celebrating with my best bud this year, as well, my darlin’ cat, Georgie. : )

  20. Hi Estella!

    Yes, me too. I’m thankful for those things, also. Thanks for coming to the blog today and sharing your thoughts with me.

    Have a wonderful holiday!

  21. Karen, Karen, Karen!

    I expect to one day come across your posting on
    sky diving or deep sea exploration and there will
    be that great photo of Adam! I love it! And I
    love seeing that handsome young man every now and

    Pat Cochran

  22. Mary, Our thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family on this sad loss of your dear sister-

    Pat Cochran

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