Come sit around the fire and we will tell you a story ... a Christmas story ... a Christmas story about how Christmas saved the potlatch, and in so doing, saved an entire culture.
     Among the Indian cultures of the northwest, the potlatch was integral to their cultural continuum.  It was a time when a whole tribe gathered together to honor a man who would give up all of his wealth, a common occurrence among the capitalistic northwest cultures.  It was during this potlatch that the stories were told, all of the stories.  These stories held the entire record of the tribe's culture.  These stories were their bible, their history books, and their tools for teaching the children.  In these stories rested their entire identity.
     It was late in the nineteenth century when the potlatches were banned as pagan rites.  All of the tribes knew that it would only be a matter of time before all would be lost.  In little more than a generation, though they may be alive as people, their culture would become extinct.
     They watched, however, as missionaries tolerated, even participated in Christmas parties about the holidays, so the tribes got permission to hold their own parties in celebration of Christmas.  Permission was granted, and at Christmas the tribes became once again holding potlatches, albeit under the guise of Christmas parties.  The stories were told and learned by the young and survived until the ban on potlatches was lifted generations later.
     Christmas had saved the potlatch and, in so doing, saved the culture.
 

                Have a great holiday season

 

                                                                                                                         Larry Sunderland