When Estella suggested I write something related to Halloween for her blog, since that holidays is coming up next month, I have to admit that I wasn’t very enthused. Neither being of a faith that celebrates All Saints nor having celebrated Halloween beyond the childhood of my children, I felt I had nothing special from personal experience to share and that any research I could do could be Googled by anyone same as me. In fact, I was about to ditch the suggested subject altogether until I felt drawn in what may seem to be an unexpected direction – that of how my Native American ancestors might have influenced how Americans today celebrate Halloween.
I’m Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, Delaware and Lumbee, as far as my Native American roots go, so I began to research what they celebrated this time of year. Depending on what part of the country they were from, each native group had it’s own identification for what they called moons, a way of marking the seasons and times of their year. For the Cherokee, the October moon was called the Harvest Moon, for the Choctaw it was the Moon of the Wildcat, and for the Creek it was the Big Chestnut Moon. There meanings are pretty self-explanatory. Cherokee harvested crops this time of year, Choctaw hunted large wildcats and panthers that were more plentiful back in the day, and for the Creek it was a time to harvest chestnuts. So, of these the Cherokee’s harvest would have been more likely to have influenced what I grew up experiencing as an annual Halloween celebration.
While part of the fun of Halloween for children is being able to dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating, I’m from an older generation who had a less commercial Halloween celebration. It was, indeed, more of a harvest celebration and one that I looked forward to very much each year. I lived in a rural area where trick-or-treating wouldn’t have made logistical sense. Instead, we had a big annual event at our school and it was well-attended by everyone in the community. We didn’t dress in costume, but we did have our version of haunted house type “rooms” to dare to visit. There was entertainment on the stage in the auditorium. But mainly, it was about fellowship…and food. There were pumpkins, candied apples, cakes, etc., but it was also the one time in the year I knew I could get quince!
Early American settlers brought their own particular holiday celebrations with them, Halloween among them. The Native American contribution would have been in the foods available. The Cherokee Harvest Moon is the full Moon occurring closest to the autumnal equinox. Their fall harvest would have included, among other things, pumpkins, which they introduced to the new Americans and are to this day widely used in the celebration of Halloween, by carving scary or silly faces into them.
In reflecting on the wonderful Halloween celebrations of my childhood that were much more like harvest celebrations than the Halloween children identify with today, it seems to me that my childhood celebrations of community fellowship and sharing of food drew us closer together and brought us closer to Mother Earth as we shared her bounty at that time of year.
As I was researching to find something to link the harvest celebrations of the past with the Halloween celebrated today, it’s not surprising that the connection would be fellowship and food. That’s how Native Americans celebrated. However, some Native Americans would have been, I think, appalled at the idea of dressing up like witches and the like. Some totally believed in evil witches and that they should be killed! I had a Creek acquaintance several years back who was quite adamant on the subject. In any case, I was surprised to come across an online debate about whether it’s acceptable to dress up in any kind of Native American costume today in celebration of Halloween. The author of the site is very much opposed, stating that Native American is a culture, not a costume. One response posted was that his position is offensive because it is racist in that it’s aimed at white people dressing as Native Americans when, in fact, it has been a long time since you could tell a Native American by skin color alone. One writer stated that wearing a Native American costume paid homage to his heritage.
All that said, whether you like to dress up as a witch or as Pochohontas for Halloween, whether you prefer fellowship and shared food or trick-or-treating, it really matters most what spirit you celebrate in. For some, Halloween is a time for making mischief, for some a time for appeasing spirits, for others just a reason for a party. As for the mischief-makers, even holiday “fun” reaps karma. Be careful what you sow! For those who participate in a celebration related to the spirits, may you be blessed. For those who just want to dress up and collect candy or otherwise party, have safe fun.
There is no one right reason or way to celebrate Halloween. There is nothing inherently evil or good in the holiday itself except whatever we ourselves assign to it. With no young children or grandchildren, my ideal Halloween would be much as it was when I was a child – fellowship and food, but maybe while watching a scary movie!