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 granddaughter and grandson. 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.
What will you be doing for Thanksgiving this year?