Two Days After Christmas


Here’s hoping you all had a wonderful Christmas, filled with beauty 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, rush…rush…rush…

But once the rush was done, gifts were bought, everything wrapped and only awaiting that special someone to open the presents, 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 the tribe because he gave away almost all that he had.  However, contrary to a more socialist point of view, this was not pure socialism, because the giving was never regulated and never mandatory.  (Compare that to our income tax system.)  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.  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.

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 treasured most, especially so if there were a sickness in the family and one wanted to ensure their beloved one’s  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 want the responsibility of taking 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 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).

And speaking of gifts, I will be giving away a free copy of my newest release, SENECA SURRENDER — just look over to the side here for the Giveaway Guidelines.

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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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22 thoughts on “Two Days After Christmas”

  1. The concept of giving for the joy of giving with no expectation of something in return if foreign to so many. It is sad that the expectation of receiving gifts has blocked out the joy of just giving. The enjoyment of figuring out what to get someone and how to surprise them is special.
    It would be difficult in today’s non-Native American world to gift to the point of poverty. Society doesn’t understand or appreciate it. The reasons for it don’t exist.
    Peace is a gift we can all hope for and try to implement on our own level. The more of us who work for it, the sooner we can hope it will work its way up to those in power. Interesting to think what would happen if those at the top declared war, but no one showed up.

  2. What a wonderful post. I couldn’t agree more. I said this on another post but I’ll mention it again. Christmas in Scotland was not so commercial or merchandised but more about people and just being together. When I was young of course I was excited waiting for Santa but I don’t remember Xmas being so relentlessly oriented toward shopping as it is now.

    I love and truly respect the Indian way of the richest giving to the poorest or neediest. And I agree with your comments about corporate culture now, which is way off track for the idea of America, IMO, where the rich just can’t seem to get enough. I’m concerned we’re on a very dangerous course led by the wealthy who want to cut even more help from the less fortunate.

    To end on a better note, though, I was so grateful for the many stories of community and individual kindnesses for the holidays that were shared on local TV. And we ourselves changed from the “norms” quite a number of years ago which has resulted in a more spirit than material season. My New Year’s wish is that we could all walk more in the trail the Indians did. And I also agree that this isn’t at all a socialist view but a case for the meaning of true humanity.

  3. Hi Eliza!

    You have put this so beautifully, I am only going to say, thank you for your insights and your compassion. No, never socialism — but rather humanity…I love it.

  4. Perfect timing and subject matter again Karen. You are always so spot on giving us a perpetual gift of your knowledge and research into the lives of Native American tribes of the past and today. I love the idea of even now giving something only you made by hand or a token or coupon of time or service you will give or do for others. If we had no $ and many of us don’t at some point in time then we do it the old fashioned but loving way by giving of ourselves, our time, energy, love and soul by making something that means a lot to us even more than to the one that we gift it to. I spent Christmas Day with just 1 of my 5 siblings, but it was at her old daughter’s house near me, with her youngest and that one’s boyfriend along with my married niece’s husband and 6 year old daughter. 7 of us but we had lots of fun, love, good food and the added enjoyment of the 6 year old passing out gifts with help from mom and dad. She of course got the most presents but it was just the thrill of it all, the closeness and time spent together, even watching shows on tv. I enjoy spending time with my family no matter of the presents, being with them is enough for me, it’s priceless but imagine everyone as a kid inside do you want only gifts on Christmas, do you like giving as well or do you prefer giving and not getting anything except maybe cooking or cleaning up the meals, you all make and spend so much love on for the family. Or maybe not, you like to go out, eat or drink out with others, never to cook. Everyone is different but I can see how the tribe as a big family, giving instead of getting, heck like a wedding that takes time to make everything, a big day, but the bride gives away things she made to her guests to celebrate it instead of getting the presents. Can you imagine it these days or are we too greedy and materialistic to think and act like the tribes even today. Where do you place yourself, in what group or are you sort of half and half even now. Not a very materialistic person so giving and seeing the face of those who have received mean more to you than you wanting something for yourself especially gifts or presents. Karen you bring up a neat situation that make me stop and think. Does it for you all too?

  5. Hi Elaine!

    I so enjoyed reading your thoughts on this and reading about all the pleasure that family can bring. I feel very much similar to you, I think. And you’re right — giving something like your time, your energy, etc. is so valuable. For me, I feel as though all of the things I make at Christmas time are presents, too.

    I so love these little points of culture in the American Indian culture of the past. I think our current culture missed out on not getting to know these people better. What do you think?

  6. Yes it is a shame Karen, but if you think about it, everyone warring, fighting or conquering a people usually tear down, break, burn or demolish all gods, written words or anything of value to them because they want them to have no past or present worshipping, idolizing, praying or even living in their old ways and cultures. As I have said before I watch Ancient Aliens and this exact thing was on last week. And why they think aliens are still here or someone making sure histories are demolished and cannot be found or discovered in its entirety or passed down through generations like it domestically by native tribes and people to this very day. From our Native American Tribes to the Aborigines in Australia and other indigenous people’s the world over. They mentioned that some are always around to keep countries and people fighting to this day because they do not want us too developed yet they also say we may well be a seeded planet with alien hybrids and who knows what but many oral legends have a basic truth and they are finding more facts to support these theories. Like we are not alone not have we ever been, missing people and tribes like the Anasazi. Portals and more exist around they think. But to get back to your statement it would have helped to learn from the People here before us like the tribes. But maybe we have to learn certain things on out own or it doesn’t mean as much. Like you said all the love and energy into making meals, things is so much more meaningful than a store bought gift. They are new, expensive or prettier but nothing compared to what we put into something homemade. In Alaska the Last Frontier this last week they had their White Rabbit Exchange Christmas since elephants are not native to the frontier. Each family member made a homemade and or handmade gift then they picked #’s from 1 on, if the next person liked it they stole it, but they allowed only 2 steals with the second person keeping that gift and the other picked one from the tree until all had picked or stole a gift and a few times a spouse stole it to keep it in the family if the gift was stolen first. Anyway the #1 person got the last pick or steal then all were taken. But the spirit of this gift exchange was to handmake something and it was all very fun, emotional yet very heartfelt at the same time and done before Christmas as a separate celebration of love and family. So the meaning is kept by all not a store bought only day where Christmas is too commercialised and is lost. This special day of theirs like the Native American tribes, well it is based in the frontier and there are Inuit and maybe other tribes in Alaskacso who knows maybe this tradition is a combination of both peoples living in Alaska at one time. We may never know but I think we need to go inward inside ourselves to honor people more. Sorry both shows had elements pertinent here.

    • Hi Elaine,

      What an extremely interesting post. I, too, believe that we are not alone in this universe — it’s so vast, the idea that we are the only life around is a bit silly, I think — have always thought this. But at present if there is another hand at work here, they are certainly anti-human, anti-life and anti-happiness — that’s certainty. I do believe there are people in the world who push alien agendas, also. Bankers, for instance. My 2 cents. : )

  7. I don’t think Xmas is about gifts at all, no matter what they are or how they are exchanged. Period. Full Stop. I say that for two reasons. First, I saw a local piece on a boy in foster care who only wanted his very own family. Which he got and meant everything to him and his new family. Second, I myself have lost all of my family who have passed on except for my son, and we practice a sort of Xmas year ’round, when the spirit moves, and not because of commercial, material expectations that one is supposed to do. And I thought of a third reason–what about those who barely have enough to eat never mind giving presents; Xmas can be a dark time for them because they are “left out.”

    All of this should be about caring for others, and not necessarily on a specific date. Check Jesus’s words, and not the date chosen by later Christians in the third or fourth century AD. No one knows when Jesus was born and most scholars think the current date was chosen because of the winter solstice to bring “pagans” into the fold. Christmas trees, holly. mistletoe, and gift giving are all relatively “modern” ideas.

    I don’t at all begrudge people who want a time together of celebration, but I do indeed deplore the materialistic demands all around us. I wish it were a Jesus and also an Indian time of giving to those who truly need, and not an event of giving even more stuff to those who already have so much. What I myself learned from the Lakota Sioux is that if you have a roof over your head, enough to eat, and a way to keep warm, one is truly blessed. Jesus too ministered to the truly needy. It’s all of a piece looked at from different ways.

  8. True Eliza people have commercialized it to what it is today, maybe it should have stayed stockings that had fruit if good and coal if bad figuratively speaking. No presents just go out and do a good selfless deed and make someone smile, laugh or have something to eat. This better to give than receive still exists. I know it does for me, religion is made by people usually those in power or wealth to maintain order among the masses of people or even civilized the pagans, savages, peasants or whoever they wanted to keep control over. Keep the notion of what Christmas stands for and it’s not buying presents. Volunteer somewhere to help without pay or recognition other than you know you are helping others, period and pray by doing this you may also be Paying It Forward since you never know when or if you will be needing help in the future. Been there, done that and still believe in helping others even if and when I had nothing, no money, nothing of great value, nothing but me, my mind, knowledge and experience even skills others may need by giving of myself, my time. I still do this everyday by helping whoever, where and whenever I can, however I can, because I may save someone literally and figuratively by doing so. My life experience should not be for naught, but useful to others if I can I will. I learned humility the hard way, a stroke will do that but I regret nothing for I learned a lot by it all and still do.

    • Well, I also believe that corporations, merchants, etc., have gotten into the act in order to use the existing culture to enrich themselves. I’m not talking about the average Joe — more like Bankers and such.

  9. If only…the American Indian were our ancestors and we lived by their virtues. Our society is the total opposite which is a lot of mankind. We will destroy ourselves before we learn what the true meaning of life should be. Your posts are always thought provoking and fascinating!

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