November is Native American History Month, and assuming your characters would have come in contact with Native Americans in the Old West, they might have been treated to one of the many Thanksgiving Festivals celebrated throughout the year by various tribes. Nearly every tribe had some sort of Thanksgiving celebration — thankfulness for surviving the Winter, or for a good harvest or hunt. Here are some Native American celebrations your characters might have encountered.
First Nations people marked time by the sun and the moon, and the Full Moon was the most important night/day of each month. Celebrations were often held at each full moon, the type of celebration depending on the particular customs of each tribe. However, the harvest season saw three main celebrations common to most tribes: Green Corn Moon, Harvest Moon, and Hunter’s Moon.
Thus, there were three Thanksgiving celebrations long before the white man even came to the Americas. Europeans, of course, brought their own Harvest festivals, and sometimes they would join their own feasts with those of their Native neighbors.
The Green Corn festival usually lasts at least three days. It’s generally celebrated after the first full moon in August, or sometimes September, when the young corn has reached a certain height and may offer a tender first harvest. Some tribes that have celebrated this festival include the Iroquois, Cherokee, Choctaw and many Pueblo nations.
Some of the activities your character may have observed include ritual fasting, cleansing, prayers and the building of a bonfire that lasts then entire festival and must not be allowed to die down. There would also be dancing, singing, playing games and participating in a drumming circle. Corn is a major food for this festival, of course, and is eaten roasted, in cornbread, corn soup, or tortillas. Also featured are various game animals caught by the tribe’s hunters, and local fruits and/or vegetables.
The Harvest Moon festival is held in September, and features gathered harvests of fruits, vegetables, nuts, corn and other grains, and fish or small game animals. Thanks are given to all living things for allowing themselves to be sacrificed to provide flood, clothing and other items for the tribe. The festival includes lots of dancing and singing, drumming and games. After this, the hunt for big game animals to survive the winter will begin in earnest.
The Feast of the Hunter’s Moon is celebrated in late September or October. It is not as popular today as the other two Thanksgiving festivals, as hunting is no longer as important to many tribes, but your character might certainly have witnessed and/or participated in such a festival.
Native Americans gave thanks in many ways during the year, so the idea of one Thanksgiving festival was a foreign one. To the First Nations, every day should be Thanksgiving.