The Harvest Festival — Our Native American Roots

Yummmmm…  Autumn — crisp air, scented delicately with falling leaves and the smoke from wood stoves;  Cinnamon and fresh apple cider, pumpkin pie, turkey and cranberry sauce, apple pie, the last of the corn on the cob…

And what about the “feels” of autumn? Traipsing through leaves, racking them up and jumping in them; picking up a leaf and tracing its pattern; warm days, cool nights, the pleasure of feeling Mother Earth prepare for a few months’ sleep.

And how about the sounds of autumn?  Cold nights and warm blankets, football games announcing the players; the sounds of cheerleaders and marching bands; long practices — even the quiet sound of leaves falling to the ground.  How I love it.

thanksgivingOf course, to the people who lived close to the earth, these were all the beauties of autumn, also.  So much was this the case that an entire festival of fun and merriment was devoted to autumn — and that festival was called the Harvest Festival.

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?  Or was this Thanksgiving part of an ancient celebration of the American Indians to give Thanks to He who is known as the Creator.

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, He gave the people dancing.  Let me tell you a little about some of these celebrations.

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), and of course deer meat or other meat when available.  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 festival after that was the Green Corn Fesitval.  Again, the people thanked the Creator 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 season festival following that was…are you ready?  You’re right — The Harvest Festival.  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 a forgetfulness about our American roots, it is wonderful to remember that the American Indian and the Love of Freedom went hand-in-hand.  What seems interesting to me is that our Thanksgiving festival still honors the custom of giving thanks for those gifts that He, The Creator, has given us.  To the American Indian all of these festivals contained this special element — that of giving Thanks to our Maker.

Perhaps it’s only because this one festival was shared by American Indian and Colonist alike that set the tone of Thanksgiving for future generations.  And I do believe that the love of autumn and giving thanks for that which belongs to us has its roots in The Harvest Festival, so beloved to the Eastern Indian Tribes.

What do you think?

Be sure to leave a comment to be entered into the free give-away.  Giveaway Guidelines are off to the right here on this page.

As an aside, for a short time the book, WOLF SHADOW’S PROMISE, Book # 4 in the Legendary Warrior series, is on pre-order sale.  It’s due to be released to KindleUnlimited October 1st.  While I don’t yet have a link to share with you, I do have the gorgeous cover, and so I thought I’d let you have a peek at it before it goes up for sale.

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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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40 thoughts on “The Harvest Festival — Our Native American Roots”

  1. I really enjoyed your post and all the information that you shared about festivals. Autumn is my favorite time of the year. I love the cover for WOLF SHADOW’S PROMISE.

    • Ah… Thanks so much, Karen. I think those festivals must have been so much fun. And I do love that cover of WOLF SHADOW’S PROMISE, too. : )

    • Hi Debra!

      Thanks so much. As I said above, I think these festivals would have been fun. Except perhaps for the sacrifice of a white dog for the New Year. That would’ve been hard for me, especially if I’d known the dog.

  2. Hi Janine!

    So much fun and pleasure those festivals would have been. I’m only happy that the Indians shared their Harvest Festival with the newcomers — and began our own tradition of celebration of this year.

  3. Thanks for listing all of the different observances that the Native Americans observed. My Daddy loved Thanksgiving sohas always been a special time to our family. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Hi Connie!

    You know, I think it used to be so much fun. Think of all our wonderful memories of Thanksgiving — and multiply by 5 — must have been a beautiful place and a beautiful way to live.

  5. it is just amazing to me how festivals from even ancient Roman culture align with festivals through ages and cultures to the present! I, too, love Autumn, and not just because my birthday is in October.

  6. Thanks for the interesting post, Karen. Harvest festivals are celebrated around the world, and in Britain have been since pagan times. One of the key scenes on Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd features a harvest festival (sorry, I’m an old English major who did her thesis on Thomas Hardy, and “old” is exactly right since I’ve hit a birthday today with an “0” in it! 🙂 )
    Thanks again for a great fall post and congratulations on Wolf Shadow’s Promise.

    • Hi Eliza!

      How interesting. Yes, I know it’s celebrated world wide — as many of the seasons are — but I so like our giving thanks at this time for those things that have made our lives a little easier. Thanks for the fascinating info. : )

  7. Hi Karen, I really enjoyed your blog and pictures. Thanks for sharing the history behind why we celebrate Thanksgiving when we do. Love the cover of your new book. Thanks again, Hugs, Phyliss

    • Hi Deana!

      Wow! That is so great! Lucky you. The Comanche are such a fascinating tribe — traditionally some of the best horse riders there has ever been. : ) At least I think that’s right.

  8. Gorgeous covet Karen. And so is Adam Beach. 🙂 Thank you for such an interesting post. What better way to give thanks then to have a festival.
    Carol Luciano

      • Hi Carol!

        Yes, the cover is so beautiful that when I first saw it, it took my breath away. Adam Beach is certainly dreamy. : ) I agree with you on a great way to give thanks. Oh, you know, I read it as cover — skipped right over the typo. : )

    • Hi Carol!

      Yes, the cover is so beautiful that when I first saw it, it took my breath away. Adam Beach is certainly dreamy. : ) I agree with you on a great way to give thanks.

  9. Autumn is my favorite time of year. Love the history you shared. It seems logical Thanksgiving has its roots in the Native American East Coast tribes.

  10. Oh, by the way, if the winner of the free e-book chooses, I can give them the new book, WOLF SHADOW’S PROMISE. I’ll just have to wait until it’s actually published. : )

  11. One more message before I go trotting off to bed (more like falling into bed) — please be sure to come back tomorrow to see if you are a winner. And if you would like the newest release, WOLF SHADOW’S PROMISE, and you’re willing to wait until October 1st, that can be your prize — or one of my other books. : )

    So do check back tomorrow.

  12. We should be more like the Native American peoples and recognize and appreciate what we have. Their close connection to the resources they depended upon to live made it easy for them to give thanks for what they had. We need to learn what aspects of the world around us directly influence our lives. With this awareness, we will gain a bit more control in our lives and can give thanks for those elements we appreciate.

  13. Gee, I got busy and still haven’t gone to bed like I should have. So at last, the emails are answered and I’m at last able to step away from the computer. It’s hard to do sometimes. : )

    Good Night.

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