Childhood Christmas memories on the Rez
- EFN Staff | December 12, 2018
Those who grew up in First Nation communities have fond memories of celebrating Christmas with their families. These four individuals share their childhood memories of their Christmas in the rez!
Michael Desjarlais from the Kawacatoose First Nation was raised by his kohkum Maryann and moshum Mike when he was over a year old along with other siblings. During these years, he and his family would walk house to house to eat throughout Christmas eve and day. To this day, Desjarlais treasures a precious memory of a Christmas gift made by his moshum.
“My moshum and kohkum barely had any money. One day, my moshum cut out a horse and a man using cardboard and gave it to me for Christmas,” he said. “And he cried. I told him ‘don’t cry’ and I took the horse and played with it. When I lost the horse, I cried.”
Although he lost the original cardboard horse and man, he recreates a replica to reminisce on a gift that came from the heart and to reflect that he and his siblings were raised with love.
Gwenda Yuzicappi from the Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation remembers her Kunshi (grandma) Christmas tradition was to get all five girls dressed up in their favorite dresses and she would make rag curls on their hair the night before Christmas eve. By the morning, her Kunshi would take them off and they had curls and they would all get ready to go to midnight mass.
“All the girls were the choir and we sang Christmas songs. After mass, we went home and Kunshi would finish cooking her Christmas meal,” she said. “Once t meal was cooked Kunshi, made a spirit dish to feed all our relatives who journeyed in [the spirit world]. After all the Takojas (grandchildren) ate, we would open our presents.”
Gerald Ratt, a member of the Lac La Ronge First Nation, grew up on a street known as “thriller street.”
Christmas time was always a hard time for him and his family.
“We didn’t have much as we lived on welfare. I always asked myself as a child what is the purpose of Christmas? I was a child I didn’t know,” said Ratt.
One December night while his mom was out, Ratt found a hammer and told his two younger sisters and younger brother they were going out to find a Christmas tree as they didn’t own a saw. He recalled it being dark, cold, and the snow was deep. They made their way into the bush and Ratt was plowing a trail for his siblings.
“We searched for a tree trying to find the perfect one. We finally found one so we took the hammer one by one and tried to chop that tree down. It took us a while…we were tired and cold but finally that tree came down,” he said. “So, here we were four little kids pulling a Christmas tree. We got it home and saw its flaws and we thought it looked perfect in the bush. But we made the most of it and decorated it up real nice. We were happy and so was our mom.”
Although Ratt and his family didn’t have much growing up, he is grateful to have these memories to cherish and to him, that is what Christmas was all about.
Tanya Severight from the Keeseekoose First Nation remembered when she was younger, her whole family would meet at her grandma Chip and grandpa Dan’s big cozy place. Her aunties, uncles and cousins would travel down to spend Christmas with them. Severight lived with her grandparents so she was always eager waiting for everyone to show up. My parents and siblings lived in Edmonton.
“Over the years, we had to keep adding tables so everyone would fit. My grandparents had six kids and of course everyone had kids,” she said. “On Christmas Eve, we would all meet at midnight to open gifts and have a midnight lunch. We would visit for a bit and everyone would go camp wherever they were staying for the holidays.”
Severight said the next day, her family would have their turkey dinner and everyone would come back to continue celebrating Christmas.
“All us kids would be playing with our new toys in the basement. One of my uncles would take us outside during the day and rig up something to haul us around, whether it was a horse or a car hood and all the kids would pile on!” she said. “The best Christmas memories were spent with my huge family.”