Thanksgiving and the Incredible American Indian

Happy Tuesday & Good Morning (or afternoon or evening)!

Well, November seems to be a time that reminds me that Thanksgiving is in the air.  Pumpkins, turkey, the smells of autumn in the air.  

Of course we are all pretty much aware 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, I do believe that there was … is more to the story as Paul Harvey used to say.  So do read on.

Thanksgiving was one of several festivals amongst the Eastern Indians — in particular I’m talking about the Iroquois.  However, 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, teachers, and elders.  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 because 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 stillremember 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 and my new granddaughter.  I’m thankful to be able to travel this beautiful country.  I’m thankful that I was raised in a country where one could voice one’s opinion regardless of the wishes of the “King,” even if those freedoms are not so easily found today.

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?

This year I will most likely be all the way across country, spending time with family that I don’t often see (because they live all the way on the other side of the country).

What will you be doing for Thanksgiving this year?

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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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35 thoughts on “Thanksgiving and the Incredible American Indian”

  1. Great blog, Karen. The Pilgrims have always been given too much credit for the first Thanksgiving.
    I’ll be celebrating with my family this year, grateful for them all.
    FYI, my grandmother made me a concob/husk doll when I was a little girl. She said that was the kind of doll she played with as a child. She was a real pioneer.

  2. Karen, what a great blog! I truly enjoyed it. As for my family, we’ll all be together for Thanksgiving this year; probably for the last time for a while. My oldest daughter and her family (5 grandkids and a wonderful hubby) are moving back to your neck of the woods after school is out. Traveling all the way from California to Texas will be more difficult, so I’m sure we’ll be splitting holidays between their being here for Thanksgiving or Christmas. So, this will be a very special holiday with all my kids, my sister and her husband, along my nephew and niece. Hope you have a Blessed holiday. Love, P

  3. Loved your subject today. I think we all should take a minute every day to be thankful for all we have. I’m really glad I live in a country that has so much to offer. Despite our differences of opinion we have so much more than other countries. I’m thankful that we don’t have fighting in the streets, afraid to go out of our homes for fear of being killed. And I’m thankful that we have the freedom to vote, which I will do as soon as I get off here. May you have a blessed day, Filly sister!

  4. HI Phyliss!

    You know, I’m going to be going to my daughter’s soon and my husband and I are looking at the possibility of relocating there — just in order to be closer to our grandchildren and to take some of the burden off of my daughter and her husband. Family comes first. 🙂

  5. Sweet picture of you and your hubby. Thanks for another great treat of history on your blog.
    I’m thankful for the health of everyone in my family and friends and thankful we live in such a great country. I’m thankful for a writing career I work very hard at… love the work and the opportunity.

    Have a great day, everyone!!!

  6. Hi Charlene!

    I love your post. And I love my writing career, also, although mine hasn’t been as fruitful as yours these last few years. But I love writing and am so happy to be able to have this career, also. 🙂 Thanks Charlene!

  7. This was such an interesting post, Karen. Thank you. I enjoyed hearing about the festivities. Wish I knew what was said during those speeches.

    Today I am thankful for liberty. I’m grateful for the freedom to vote in a democratic country. This election season has been very divisive and bitter, which makes me sad. Once it’s over, we are still one nation under God, indivisible, even by political parties, if we stand together. We must work to establish unity and give our support wherever it’s needed. We are fortunate to live in this land of opportunity.

    Nice photo of you and your husband. 🙂

  8. Hi Cheryl!

    I so love your comments, and I echo them. Yes, that’s right — we are blessed to live in a country where one’s freedom is treasured by most. May it always be so. 🙂

  9. Hi Kay, I live in a suburb surrounded by miles of strawberry fields, so I love the the vision that the way to the Creator is paved with strawberries! And I love the vision of Adam Beach any time or place LOL.

    Great post. You always present the most interesting information. xoxox

  10. Well, Kay, you have made my day with that picture of Adam Beach…OH MY. What a great post–I always learn something from your posts–always so very interesting. I didn’t know that about the festivals–great information. I’m so thankful for so many things I hardly know where to begin–my family, my home, living in a free country and being able to write the stories I want to write. This is just the tip of the iceberg. So many wonderful things to be grateful for in our lives!

  11. Hi Karen, I love today’s subject. I do believe that gratitude is the source of all happiness. As always, I’m grateful for family and friends and for living in this great country. I’m also grateful for the gift of laughter.


  12. Having Thanksgiving with my children. It’s always wonderful.
    I make the pies. (I’ve been sneaking frozen pie crust past them for years…they either haven’t noticed or are too polite to complain!)


  13. I always said the American Indian did things a heck of a lot better than the Puritans (except maybe the sacrificing the dog). I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving meals for my immediate family for 4 or 5 years now. Unfortunately, our family got so big that we no longer all celebrate together which saddens me (my niece has 7 kids and her sister-in-law has 5 to just mention some of her family). I never get tired of seeing Adam!

  14. What an interesting and informative post… I would guess that every culture has some sort of ‘gratitude’ within it. I’m always gratful for our continued good health.

  15. Hi Margaret!

    That’s one I hadn’t considered, the gift of laughter — and what a gift it is. Did you know that laughter will stimulate the immune system? Maybe we should splurge on it. 🙂

  16. Hi Catslady!

    We’re all spread out all over the country and so we seldom can come together at one time and in one place. So nice to refresh that picture of Adam…yes…

  17. I will be going to my mother in laws on Thanksgiving day. Then I will cook a dinner either the weekend after or the next for my sister’s birthday. Its usually the same dinner that one cooks for Thanksgiving. Sister cooks the Christmas dinner.

  18. Had to wait to write to find out this afternoon if my daughter got her new job! Well, YAY, she did. So now, I’m not sure what our Thanksgiving will look like. Her employers from her Summer job invited us to their home as we did last year. Now, I’m not sure. Our family is split up so we are on our own. Whatever we do, we have a lot of friends who are by their lonesomes and we do all get together. Isn’t that what the holiday is all about?? And too, we live in a small town, so essentially, we are all family. (Or so it seems).
    I want to know who was the brave person who first figured out to eat a turkey? Come on. Think about it.

  19. I have already celebrated Thanksgiving.. In Canada it is to give thanks for the harvest, which we celbrate the 2nd Monday in October.. But the US Thanksgiving always ushers in the holiday season for me.

    I knew some of what you have told us her, but I learned a few more things.. I love the history lesoons.

  20. Hi Karen,

    Love all the information you share with us!

    We will be going to our son’s for Thanksgiving and the weekend. Rest of the kids and their families usually join us there. Black Friday is spent with shopping (the girls) and football (the boys). We have a ball and have even worn matching tshirts or hats for the day!

  21. Hi Kathleen O!

    Thanks so much for your post. I love history too, but real history — not what you’re taught in school. They say the victors write the history — too bad — I think history is there so that perhaps…just perhaps we might learn from our elders. 🙂

  22. OK. Look at a turkey. Especially a male in all his scary plumage! Say, in 1400 you meet one in the woods and have never seen something like that. Are you scared? Should you kill it? And if I kill it, what do I do with it? Bury it or eat it? EAT? HOW? It’s too ugly, I don’t want to touch it.

    Now look at a lobster. Same thing.

    Who was the first person to say, OK, lets eat it!

    Use your imagination guys. A bit of humor???

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