As we go through the late-year holidays, almost everyone spends at least a little time reflecting on the traditions that have come down to us through the years; decades certainly, but often centuries. Maybe we perceive them as memories of something that “our” family did, a holiday parade or festival, a church or town tradition, and maybe (or likely) a special meal. However they manifest themselves, our beliefs and traditions; religious or secular, ones specific to a given family or to our community in general, are the culmination of celebration and ritual from years past. While no tradition that I am aware of makes any claim to be uniquely Pinsonian, it is good to consider the customs and traditions from the past.
Many Pinsonians celebrate the holidays at the Annual Christmas Parade in Pinson Alabama
Many of our holiday customs were born of a western-European Judeo/Christian tradition… including the Yule tree, a myriad of holiday foods, the giving and receiving of gifts, and (hopefully), a sense of peace and goodwill and the desire to set differences aside. In this spirit, it is useful to examine some of the traditions of the Native-Americans who lived in our area before the arrival of Europeans and others. While such traditions did not stem from the same origins, many of their core values were similar and are worth comparing to our more familiar ones…
For Native-American peoples in the southeastern US (including Cherokee and Muscogee peoples), corn (or maize) was their single most important food and played an important role in their rituals and celebrations. Accordingly, the most important ceremony of the year was the Green Corn festival; Posketv or Puskita (pronounced Bus-get-uh) in their native language and the Busk in English). Traditionally held for four to eight days in late summer, the festival was tied to the harvest of the corn crop and signified the start of the new year. Held when the first crop became edible, the festival celebrated both the success of the crop and the sense of family and community that came from everyone working together to achieve a common goal. First, there was a ritual Fasting, which began the first afternoon of the festival and lasted until the second sunrise, which signified cleansing the body of all impurities. The remainder of the festival was marked by singing, dancing, and feasting.
Native Americans celebrating their annual harvest during the Green Corn Festival
Taking place in a central ceremonial circle surrounded by arbors [trees or scrubs] with the leaders of the tribe [wise men?] facing one of the four cardinal directions. At the center of the circle was the ceremonial fire, which served as the focal area of prayers and songs of the people and was considered a living and sacred entity that relayed prayers to the god Hsaketumese (the Maker of Breath), the purifying power that balanced the universe.
Two attributes of the holiday are especially worth noting. First, the festival was used to celebrate renewal and the sacredness of life. Old fires were extinguished and cleared away, the village was thoroughly cleaned and worn or broken pottery was discarded (unless it could be used for other duties). Secondly, it was a time of forgiveness. All debts, disagreements, and crimes (except for rape and murder) were forgiven. The sense of renewal for the new year was symbolized by the kindling of new fires and display of sacred objects, such as brass or copper plates or pots and new medicine bundles.
So, it seems that many of the values and traditions that we hold dear were the same in many ways to those of the Native-Americans that lived here before us. As we each celebrate the coming holidays with our friends and family, let’s take a moment to reflect on the traditions of those peoples that came before and to cherish the truly important things that make our time together special. I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season.
This article is intended to provide accurate historical information to a general audience. Material contained herein is gathered from reputable online and traditional sources, but unless otherwise noted, is not the result of original scholarship or research by the author.
–E. E. (Skip) Campbell, Ph.D.
Skip Campbell retired from UPS in early 2012 after 38 years as a senior manager, working in numerous locations in the United States and abroad, with primary responsibilities in operations and industrial engineering. He received his BS degree in Applied Science and Operations Analysis from the University of Alabama and holds Master’s degrees in Engineering Management, Quality and Management,. Skip holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Development, with concentrations in Organizational Theory and Macroergonomics. Skip is a Senior Member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers and sits on the Board of Visitors for the College of Continuing Studies at the University of Alabama. Since retiring, Skip serves as an Adjunct Professor with the College of Continuing Studies (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at the University of Alabama and focuses his academic research efforts on the area of pre-20th century Alabama history. Skip belongs to a number of historical and cemetery preservation associations. He and his wife Denise have 3 grown children and 2 grandchildren.