By Don Stevens
It is that time of year again when all the fruits of the harvest have been put away for the winter and a blanket of snow now covers mother earth. She will awaken again in a few months and start the cycle all over again. Until then, we rest and attend to all those things that we have not had time to do over the growing season.
To celebrate this transition, the Abenaki people hold a gathering in December to help each other prepare for the long winter months. A very important part of this gathering has been sharing extra items we have accumulated that someone else may need. It was a way to help others without the expectation of getting something from a particular person in return; thus, no one felt guilty of not giving or receiving something of equal value. Each person gave only what they could spare, no matter the value. A red blanket was laid out on the floor and everyone would put something on it. The items could be an extra gathering basket, feathers, food, tools, or almost anything that would be of use. Each person would then pick one item from the blanket that they needed or wanted until everyone had something. This is the Abenaki version of today’s Christmas celebration, without all the stress that goes with it. However, because we walk in two worlds, we also celebrate the Christmas season like other Christians and merge traditions from both celebrations.
Most of our Abenaki ancestors were Christianized by the French Jesuits, when New England was New France. These priests taught about the birth of Jesus and the spiritual medicine he would bring to our people. They also taught about individuals from many tribes coming to see this birth that brought gifts to share with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Monetary values of these gifts were unimportant. Abenaki people could relate to all of these things because we have similar cultural traditions and practices.
We need to remember these teachings and the spiritual medicine that comes with this Christmas season. Too many times have I seen parents depressed because they cannot afford to buy their children the cell phone they wanted or the latest gizmo that their children beg to receive. Friends worry about giving adequate gifts to all the people in their lives and how they will be able to bear the financial burden of maxing out their credit cards. In my view, the meaning of Christmas has somehow changed from a spiritual celebration to a commercial celebration.
My hope is that the true spirit and meaning of Christmas finds its way back into the lives of all who celebrate this season. The birth of Jesus is the event Christians use to symbolize the spirit of Christmas. Regardless of your faith, the spirit of Christmas is a hope for a better tomorrow. It is the sharing of one’s gifts with those less fortunate. It is the spiritual medicine that brings comfort to our lives in times of both desperation and joy. The true spirit of Christmas is how we use our talents to better those around us and improve the way we live our lives.
It is always good to give gifts that you are able to give to others and to celebrate this season with family and friends. However, remember the spiritual medicine of the season that was given to you, reduce the commercialism that the season has become, and remove the stressful expectations of the gifts that are given and received. If Christmas has become more of a burden than a joyous occasion, please take the time to remember the spirit of the season. Maybe put out a red blanket of your own the next time you are with family and friends so you can enjoy each other and not worry so much about the gifts.
I wish you all the happiest of seasons, from my family to yours.