As a boy, I remember only one Christmas that we spend in the trapline. Other Christmases we would spend on reserve, whether at my parent’s house or my maternal grandparents house in town. The Christmas in trapline was very different.
On the days leading up to Christmas, my grandparents would talk about their other family members that I don’t think I ever met. It was always fascinating to me when they would sit and talk, occasionally laughing or sympathizing. It was a time of reminiscing old times and old friends.
When a certain person had done something crazy: “wahwāy, nanātohk māna ikī itahkamikiso” (Oh boy he used to do all kinds of things).
If there was a tragic story: “tāpwī māna nikī kitimakinawaw“(I would feel so sorry for her).
If nimosōm or nōhkom mentioned an old rival of my grandfather (actually a good friend of his), he would energize up a bit and say: “Ha, nikī mākwihāw māna kākī māsīhitowahk” (Boy did I ever give him a difficult time when we wrestled). At this time, my grandfather would look at me and gesture with his hands how he held them up before a wrestling match.
On Christmas day, my parents gave us gifts that we usually received every Christmas. At my grandfathers’ cabin, where I showed up every day before daylight, they were saying their Christmas greetings “mithomakōsīwikanisi” to each other and giving each other gifts they had at hand. They were not wrapped or neat, but it would be appreciated and accepted with a “tīniki” or “kinanāskomotin.”
Things were a bit more serious as giving was important and should be done, but not at the expense of surviving the long cold winter, by giving away your boots or mukluks (maskisina). The thankfulness shown seemed very genuine to me, it was an important lesson to learn. That afternoon, our auntie took us sliding “īsōskocowīyahk” on a very steep hill, it was a great time.
All that was different to me because my maternal grandparents in town, on the reserve, would do the whole Christmas thing. Great feasts and happy faces and gift giving that I loved very much as a child. The main language used was English with some Cree thrown in by my maternal grandparents. Those were happy, carefree memories that I cherish to this day.
Santa Clause was called wīsahkīcāhk and that is where I first heard the term. “wīsahkīcāhk kiwī kīyokākinow tipiskāki” (Santa Clause is going to come visit us tonight).
At the cabin when my paternal grandfather mentioned wīsahkīcāhk in his stories, I imagined Santa Clause as the main character. It was weird but funny when I think about it now. It was not until later that I found out about the Cree legend, possibly from Sesame Street, but I am not sure, it was so long ago.
The Christmas on the reserve was in stark contrast with the Christmas at the trapline but I am happy to have experienced both. I can only imagine now, how a Christmas would be for a modern family from the reserve today. No technology after the batteries have died, and even then, there would be no Internet access. The videos and audio files would be there but there would be little time enjoy such things when you need to go out and get your own food from the land. There is also getting your own water from the lake and getting your own wood and chopping it for firewood.
On the plus side, there is an abundance of trees in the forest you can take home to decorate, with whatever you can find. I know it doesn’t seem glamorous, but it needs to be done when you are out there. Relaxing in bed, is so much better after a long hard day, you won’t feel like climbing a tree to get a signal.
nimosōm – my grandfather
nōhkom – my grandmother
maskisina – footwear
īsōskocōwīyahk – we are sliding
tīniki – thank you
kinanāskomotin – I thank you
mithomakōsīwikanisi – Merry Christmas
iskocīsa – batteries
nīhithaw ātathōhkan – Cree Legend
makōsīwikanimistik – Christmas Tree
(I made up this descriptive word, if there is a proper way to say it, I would be happy to hear from you)