Holidays Around the World

Holidays Around the World

Native American

12/22/2023 | Angela Whitlock, CSRA

For our third post on how different areas of the world celebrate the holidays, we are discussing Native Americans and how they celebrate the holiday season.


The Indian tribes of North America did not celebrate the holiday until European contact, when they were introduced to Christianity. As a result, the introduction of these holiday traditions can be controversial in some Native circles. This is due to its association with the historical replacement of their existing believes with Christian beliefs.

While some still do not celebrate the holiday, it is also true that some Native American tribes, families, and individuals have embraced the holiday and its traditions, as well as incorporating some of their own.

The importance of giving is a main cultural tradition among most tribes, whether that be a present or making sure their families, the elderly, and orphans are taken care of. Individual tribes and Indian organizations sponsor holiday dinners for their elders and communities prior to Christmas. Some tribal service groups and societies also visit retirement homes and shelters to provide meals for their members on Christmas Day.

Traditional Native foods are often prepared for the occasion. Some of these are: salmon, walleye, shellfish, moose, venison, elk, mutton, geese, duck, rabbit, wild rice, collards, squash, pine nuts, corn soup, red and green chili stews, bread pudding, pueblo bread, piki bread, Bannock (fry bread), tortillas, berries, roots, and Native teas.

Native American churches, missions, and temples celebrate the holiday by singing carols and hymns in their Native languages. Some also host nativity plays using Native settings and actors.

The first written Native American Christmas carol was written by a Jesuit missionary priest, Jean de Brebeuf, in 1640-1, for the Huron Indians. Known as the Huron Carol, it was originally written in the Huron language (later translated to French) and has become a well-known and much loved carol today. Today, you can find an English translation here.

Native communities host traditional tribal dances, round dances, and powwows on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Special dances take place among the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest, such as buffalo, antelope, eagle, turtle, and harvest dances. On Christmas Eve, the Eight Northern Pueblos of New Mexico have a pine-torch procession and perform what is called Los Matachines, or rather, a special dance-drama that mixes North African Moorish, Spanish, and Pueblo cultures.

Native artisans and craftspeople are especially busy this time of year creating beadwork, woodwork, basketry, pottery, and other goods for special holiday sales, art markets, and gifts for their loved ones.


*information taken from a series of news articles, as well as,,,, and

*Image credit: Jemez Pueblo Indian Nativity by Yolanda Toya Toledo, clay and natural pigments, 2009. Found on Google Arts & Culture.