Where Christmas and Lakota Traditions Align

The following essay was written by Joe T., Mission Integration Director at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

I start this connection by honoring the people whose land we live on, those of the Oceti Sakowin. I am a simple man, a humble man who have learned these Lakota ways by elders, and Lakota teachers. I humbly write this blog from the perspective of a white male of European heritage, this is my perspective designed to help folks like me learn how to be respectful. I write this to not convince, but to share connections that I have personally realized between these two beautiful ways of life … 

When you look at a Christmas tree, what comes to your mind? Presents, Christmas morning, baby Jesus. These are all reasonable answers.

At St. Joseph’s Indian School, we take a moment to showcase the tree and then ask our students to imagine if you took all the branches off the tree what would you have left? “A pole,” says one student.” Another replies, “You would just have a log.”

“He bore in his own body our sins on the tree and by his wounds you have been healed.” – 1 Peter 2:24

We want to show our students that this tree is a sacred tree just like the tree that is used for Sundance ceremonies. Then you hear the students say, “Ahh, we get it.”

Christmas trees are featured in buildings all over campus in December.

The Cross and the Sacred Tree

When we look at the Christmas tree, some of us think of Jesus. It reminds us of his love for us and his death and resurrection, his dying on the cross — a cross made of wood.

These two connections between the passion of Jesus and the Sundance ceremony are similar. They both are men suffering for the love of others. There is both temptation and suffering, both are done for the sacrifice of others, those whom they love. Both show courage, sacrifice and humility.

Jesus suffered so others might be healed, and the Sundancer also prays and dances, “that the people might live!”

“Send out your light and your truth.” – Psalm 43

The Morning Star is featured in St. Joseph’s chapel on campus in this stained glass window.

The Morning Star

If you do not know what the Morning Star is, there is a star that stands alone in the sky and shines very brightly in the east just before the sun comes up. This star is call the Morning Star by the Lakota. The star announces the coming of the sun and its light of the earth. For this reason, it is very important to the people and is used often in their designs and decorations.

Does the Morning Star sound familiar to another star? Perhaps a star that was guiding the wise man to baby Jesus — the Star of Bethlehem. Once again you hear students make a connection, “Oh, yeah!” and “I get it.”

In this mural at St. Joseph’s Indian School, Mary is seen at the center with the Christ Child in Lakota depiction. The mural was painted by Br. Mickey McGrath.

The Sacred Woman

The last connection we share is the message brought to the people by a sacred woman.

In Lakota Spirituality, we see the White Buffalo Calf Woman, who brought the message of peace: the pipe. In Christianity a sacred woman name Mary brings the prince of peace: Jesus. Both of these gifts, the pipe and Jesus are used in prayer.

Philámayayethank you — for your support of the programs and services provided at St. Joseph’s Indian School to Native American children and their families.

Author: St. Joseph's Indian School

At St. Joseph's Indian School, our privately-funded programs for Lakota (Sioux) children in need have evolved over 90 years of family partnership, experience and education. Because of generous friends who share tax-deductible donations, Native American youth receive a safe, stable home life; individual counseling and guidance; carefully planned curriculum based on Lakota culture and individual student needs and tools to help build confidence, boost self-esteem and improve cultural awareness. All of this helps children to live a bright, productive, possibility-filled future.

2 thoughts on “Where Christmas and Lakota Traditions Align”

  1. I believe there is a small plaque with my parents name, Charles & Melvina Byrnes from 25 years ago in the chapel. I would hope to see it one day. Love to all of you and a very blessed and Merry Christmas!!

    1. May you also have a safe and healthy Christmas season the whole year. May God bless you and the children of St Joseph and St Labre Indian schools and keep all of them safe and healthy.

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