“Every day is Christmas in Indian Country,” Hand said. “Daily living is centered around the spirit of giving and walking the Red Road. Walking the Red Road means making everything you do a spiritual act. If your neighbor John Running Deer needs a potato masher and you have one that you are not using, you offer him yours in the spirit of giving. It doesn’t matter if it is Christmas or not.”
Clark Zephier, a traditional Dakota dancer and cultural leader in Crow Creek, says Christianity still blends with Dakota spirituality. “Some white clergymen will say that Christianity is the only way to pray, but we believe that every way is right and we don’t condemn anybody’s prayers. We go to church at Christmas and sing the carols and I help my brother-in-law, [Pastor] Everett Harrison, who is Dakota Presbyterian.”
Everett’s original family name was Shoots the Enemy, but when his grandfather went to school in the 1880s that name either offended or confused the teachers, so they assigned him the surname of the president, Benjamin Harrison.
Pastor Harrison’s church, which sits on a hill southwest of Fort Thompson, always concludes the holidays on Jan. 6 with a ceremony known as Little Christmas. All of the community’s church members join together in the non-denominational event, which has been held for as long as anyone can remember. Gifts are given to youths and adults, and everybody brings hot dishes and salads.
Little Christmas is just one of many Crow Creek gift-sharings and gatherings. The Lode Star Casino in Fort Thompson buys toys and clothes for children. St. Joseph Catholic Church provides the meat for a Christmas Day potluck at the church hall following mass. The local Senior Center also hosts a Christmas week banquet.
Perhaps the most unusual holiday event is a chilly cookout that was started several years ago by Diamond Willow Ministries. “The children do a program, and then no matter how cold it is we have a wiener and marshmallow roast outdoors,” said Gail Griner, who works at the ministry. “Two years ago it was bitterly cold but the roast went on.
Griner said youth at Diamond Willow also prepare care packages for elderly and disabled members of the community, and groups of kids go caroling and deliver treats as they visit the houses.