The YouTube above comes from Shoshoni Elder Oldhands, who has written his Original Aboriginal Christmas Song.
For me life can be a series of extreme close-ups, the cinematic technique in which a filmmaker zooms in on a seemingly obscure detail when telling a story.
Strung together these extreme close ups tell the story of our lives, some painful, poignant, beautiful or completely inexplicable — but for whatever reason, noteworthy to our human experience.
Recently Cheryl Crazybull of the Sicangu Lakota tribe put together a venue showcasing these life vignettes in the form of her Facebook group Native Ways. She invited native folks to share their memories of Christmas holiday celebrations/events.
The result is delightfully Indian. Funny, poignant, sometimes acerbic, the stories from the group mirror that unique spirit that makes Indians Indians and has allowed us to keep on going as a people.
Crazybull is currently president of Northwest Indian College in Washington State and, fittingly, was recently awarded the Enduring Spirit Award during the Native Women’s Leadership Forum. Born and reared on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, she also writes a Native Ways blog about contemporary native issues, traditional tribal knowledge and stories, always stories.
Here are a few samples of the holiday stories from members of The Native Ways Facebook page. Happy Holidays!
From Cheryl Crazybull:
Another Christmas memory for me is doing the crafts/flea market at the 4H building with my sister, LaDora. During the holidays we would sell cookies, felt ornaments and Xmas stockings. She would make little stuffed animals for presents and paint on gourds. She made Tess a 3-foot doll when she was little.
LaDora was 12 years older than me and she passed away several years ago. Those craft shows were a place for us to get to know each other as sisters. They were also very community based markets filled with handmade items and flea market finds. We all miss her but that is a good memory of something she loved to do.
From Sherry Redowl, Leadership Director at Sinte Gleska University:
I remember my Grampa, Moses Redowl.
I must have been about 6 years old. It was Christmas Eve and we were at Grampa and Gramma’s house in St. Francis. Grampa was sitting in his rocking chair and he said, “Takoja, come here.” So I went to him.
He said “Waziya gave me this for you?” and he held out his hand and when he opened it, there laid a silver dollar. I sat by him on a little stool.
Then we all walked to the Mission for midnight mass. It was a full moon and there was a soft snow falling but it was really bright outside. He got sick that night and my Dad took him to Rosebud to the hospital. They transferred him to Pine Ridge and I never saw him again.
He died in Pine Ridge hospital in January. I still have that silver dollar.
From David Beaulieu, professor of Education Policy at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee:
When I was very young we lived in a federal housing project in St. Paul. We were unable to purchase a Christmas tree so my mother waited till Christmas Eve when the gas stations along a main drag past our area might be closed with unsold trees.
We walked with a sled to pull the tree back block after block passing many stations that were still open or who had empty tree sections until we came upon one that had a few trees left with no one around. We picked the best one possible, a large tree with short very sharp needles.
By the time we had loaded up the tree and were making our escape, my mother realized that we had walked a very long distance before we had found the tree and so she decided to wait for a bus so we could take the tree home.
When a bus finally came it was fairly packed with people. The driver saw us and my mother explained something to him before he let us on the bus without paying with the tree. I still remember Ouch!, Ouch! Ouch! as we carried the tree and the sled to the back of the bus as we passed people down the central isle. We sat along the backbench there holding the tree and the sled as people turned and smiled at us!!
It was a very nice Christmas!
(This story brought out others’ stories about Christmas trees.)
From Butch Felix, who attended Flandreau Indian School:
We lived in a tent when I was very young.
My teacher after the school Christmas party would let me take the tree home. It had decorations we made in class.
On an aircraft carrier in the Tonkin Gulf (Vietnam), I used: Bomb arming wire, pacing material for bomb fuses, red plastic caps off of bomb fuses and other weapons materials to make and decorate a tree we put up in our bomb assembly area!
Carol Brookens, former teacher/counselor at Todd County Schools:
I remember when I was a kid, we didn’t have a tree so my dad brought in humungous tumbleweed and we used that. I think my mother beat some Ivory flakes into “snow” and frosted the branches. It was beautiful!
From Wayne Johnson, dean of Professional Schools at Haskell Indian Nations University:
As a child growing up in an urban setting, I had many fond memories of being part of a church that started out as a mission. It was simply a gathering of Indian people who wanted to be together.
I will always remember the presenting of the Christmas story performed by the children. I was one of them. This was a yearly tradition in our Indian church. Afterwards, the sacks of candy with apples, oranges, and nuts were passed out.
I can remember being so excited. I should have realized these experiences would be some of the best memories of my life. When we would go home (Oklahoma) for Christmas, I had similar enjoyable experiences. The people that made these experiences happen for me are gone now, but the history they created lives on.
Know your history! Merry Christmas!
From Karen Artichoker of the Pine Ridge Reservation:
We’d go to Mission to my grandparents. They lived at Bishop Hare School.
We went to church early on Christmas Eve and my grandparents went at midnight. My brother and I would drive each other, and everyone else, crazy waiting for them to get home. Since it was after midnight and officially Christmas, we’d open presents. Grandma would always make a big plate of meat and cheese and fruit, and we’d all eat up.
When we got home a few days later, there would always be an unwrapped present under our tree. Of course, it was what Santa left us! It was usually something for all of us, like a sled. Made me a believer for years in the big guy!
Could never figure out how the present got there, and to this day mom and dad deny any and all knowledge, still claiming it had to be Santa’s doing!
From Greg LaPointe of Rosebud:
A co-worked and I were remembering Christmas trees without lights, but with home made ornaments, like decorated pine cones and all that tinsel stuff. Stings of popcorn most ended up eaten so had to keep making more.
Then came those lights with the liquid that bubbled.
From Mary Swift of Rosebud:
My Christmas memories go way back. We always had to go to midnight mass and I enjoyed the masses at Spring Creek the most. It’s such a small church but at that time it didn’t seem like it.
I remember my Uncle Noah Kills In Sight used to lead the singing of Christmas songs in Lakota. My Grandpa Albert Guerue used to give all of us bags of candy like Cheryl described in one of her memories. He almost looked like Santa himself.
We would get together on Christmas Day and eat with my Aunt Gladys and her family. As we got older it was off to the Christmas Wacipi at Digman Hall.
On New Years my parents would get ready for the New Year Wacipi at Digman and they would either have a feed or prepare a huge meal at home for their Wacipi friends: Dawson& Emily No Horse, Luther & Cecelia High Horse, Matt & Nellie Two Bulls, Sylvester & Phoebe Black Spotted Horse and so many others.
I consider myself very fortunate to have been around such good people who shared so much with us to. New Year’s Wacipi was so much fun. The unveiling of the masks at Midnight. How lucky am I to have grown up with these great people and to have been taught so much of the Lakota values and traditions by them. I consider myself very fortunate.