Merry Christmas! . . . and the meaning of Christmas to Native Americans
Wishing all of you a most joyous Christmas and that the days that follow the Winter Solstice will be a time of renewal and spiritual growth. As descendants of America’s indigenous peoples, each of you can become a beacon of light to a nation becoming spiritually dead from the false promises of materialism and the obsession to control others.
The word, “Christmas” is under attack from both right and left ends of the political spectrum. Have you noticed how politicians from both major parties, TV advertisements and network talking heads intentionally avoided using the word this year? By substituting the word “holidays” they hope to garner the maximum percentage of profits and voters. A central religious tradition of Western Civilization is being diluted into nothingness.
Although religious traditions introduced from Europe, Hannukah and Christmas was highly compatible with the Spiritual Path of the Muskogean Peoples. The Winter Solstice was always an important time in the spiritual life of most Native American peoples. It symbolized the Creator’s promise that the days of sunlight would steadily get longer and eventually warmth and new life would come to the land again.
The days of Hannukah in Jewish traditions is essentially a statement of hope in the face of darkness. Christianity added another dimension by celebrating the birth of a baby, Yeshua ben Yusif (Jesus Christ) with direct links to the Creator, who would introduce a new, spiritual way of living. We will get back to that baby in a moment.
Native American observance of the solar cycle
The spiritual ties between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the solar cycle go back a long, long time. I am currently working on the analysis of a complex of three structures on the coast of South Carolina that have been radiocarbon dated to 2110 BC. The structures are clearly oriented to the movement of several celestial bodies, including the sun. This was public architecture!
Beginning around 200 BC in traditional Creek territory, pyramidal mounds were constructed that were oriented to the solar azimuth. The oldest mound, on the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta was oriented to the sunrise of the Winter Solstice. Between around 0 AD and 900 AD the principal temple mounds faced the sunrise of the Summer Solstice.
Beginning with the construction of the Great Temple Mound at Ocmulgee around 900 AD, principal temple mounds were oriented to the azimuth of the Winter Solstice sunset. This marked the adoption of the Mesoamerican calendar, whose years begin on December 21 . . . the Winter Solstice. Typically arranged perpendicular to the Sun Temple was a smaller, oval Moon temple. This suggests that they were also worshiping a moon god. Ocmulgee also had a temple mound that seemed to worship a corn god or goddess.
There was some sort of political and religious revolution between 1350 and 1375 AD. Thereafter, principal temple mounds associated with Apalache Kingdom (Lamar Culture) faced the south and were much smaller. They did not require the massive amounts of labor to construct as such edifices as the unfinished Mound A at Etowah. This change marked the adoption of the Muskogean calendar, which begins on the Summer Solstice and included “Leap Days” that are celebrated as the Green Corn Festival.
When Richard Briggstock visited the capital of the Apalache in northeast Georgia in 1653, worship of the sun had evolved into a monotheistic religion, very similar to Judaism at the time of Christ, except that there were no animal sacrifices. In fact, shedding of any blood, including hunting, was forbidden within two miles of a temple.
Like the Jews 2000 years ago, the Apalache practiced ritual baptism by immersion before entering the temple and in the case of women, after their monthly period. They also had to announce their sins publicly before a religious service along with publicly forgiving those who had sinned against them. Of course, this practice is very much akin to the essence of Jesus’s message.
The only form of sacrifice practiced by Apalache religion was very akin to our modern concept of Christmas. On the Winter Solstice, the Apalache elite would bring their finest woven clothing to the temple and place them on the altar. The priests would then distribute the clothing to the needy among the Muskogean commoners. The elite were also expected to give food to the temple for distribution to the needy in times of food shortages or natural disasters.
The Apalache openly stated a belief in a single, invisible Creator Goddess, symbolized by the sun, but not the sun. Only a mother could love her children, despite their failings. They disdained the pagans in Florida and on the South Atlantic Coast, who worshiped idols and regularly sacrificed humans . . . even babies . . . to their bloodthirsty gods. They also disdained people like the Caribs, who conjured demons that dwelt inside of fires. The Sacred Fire inside an Apalache Temple had exactly the same meaning as the Sacred Fire inside the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Apalache and their descendants, the members of the Creek Confederacy, were initially hostile to the Spanish, because they seemed to worship idols and inanimate objects, plus claimed to drink blood at their worship services. However, in 1566 the Paracusi-te (High King) of Apalache, plus his family, quickly converted to the Protestant version of Christianity, when it was presented by the French Huguenot survivors of Fort Caroline, who were given sanctuary by the High King. The Apalache elite did not see any conflicts with their traditional beliefs, but were attracted to the message of Jesus concerning salvation through faith. Their traditional religion was very vague on the soul in eternity.
Most of the Muskogean commoners did not convert at this time. They soon went back to their traditional religions, which had elements of animism in them, but nevertheless, were very spiritual in nature. The priests of the old religion became rebellious when there were few donations to support their livelihood. After a horrific smallpox plague struck in 1696, the Apalache Kingdom fell apart. It was replaced two decades later by the Coweta Confederacy.
The establishment of Christmas as a holiday
Christmas was not observed by the original Christian church. Until the reign of Emperor Constantine, Christian congregations worshiped on the Jewish Sabbath. In 313 AD Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which gave freedom of worship to most religions, including Christianity. Constantine’s mother was a Christian. Over time, he favored Christianity over paganism, but also began to manipulate its political structure.
Christian congregations were encourage to move their worship day to Sunday, which was the holy day for worshipers of the sun god, Solus Invictus. The sun god religion was the next most popular religion in the empire. Constantine hoped that the move would encourage sun worshipers to unite with Christianity. His mother was a devout Christian, but at the time Constantine considered the Hebrew-Christian god as the most powerful among many gods.
Jesus was not born around the time of the Winter Solstice. According to the Gospels, “the shepherds were watching their flocks by night.” Goats and sheep generally give birth in late winter, when the cold air prevents the spread of pathogens, but the days are longer and warmer. By the time the grass comes up, the kids and lambs will be ready to wean.
Constantine encouraged Christians to establish a special worship service on the Winter Solstice to honor the birth of Jesus. This was a political move to unite the empire. The Winter Solstice was already a holy day for the worshipers of Solus Invictus, the Saturnalia festival of traditional Roman pagans, plus the worshipers of the Persian deity or angel, Mithra. Mithraism had become a major religion in the Roman empire and was an element of Zoroastrianism in the Middle East. By tradition, Mithra had been born of a virgin on the Winter Solstice.
Despite its questionable origins, Christmas became a very positive element in the cultural traditions of Western Civilization. Its spiritual form is now observed by the majority of indigenous peoples in the Americas. After 500 years it has become a tradition that unites all the indigenous peoples of the Americas, no matter what religious denomination they are affiliated with. The current attempts to erase Christmas from being anything but a time of frantic commercial activity is a threat to indigenous unity.
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