Native American Harvest Feasts Before Thanksgiving

Updated on November 7, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

A descendant of Mohawk Nation and trained in anthropology, Patty has researched and reported on indigenous peoples for over four decades.

Performing in a pow wow dance competition and demonstration.
Performing in a pow wow dance competition and demonstration. | Source

It is Always Thanksgiving Somewhere

November is American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. See the links at our National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and New York City.

Indigenous Peoples in the Western Hemisphere long ago named the full moon of each month of the year after and event in nature or something else important to their existence. Each full moon became the signal for a monthly thanksgiving festival, from Homecomings and Pow Wows to Potlatches.

Tlingit Celebration in Alaska - Thankfulness for Fishing

Background of Ancient Thanksgivings

Native American Nations from the First Nations in Canada to the Native Americans in the USA and the Indigenous Peoples in Mexico, Central America, and South America are related to all of the Circumpolar Peoples around the world (reference: Smithsonian/National Geographic Genomic and Migration Project).

All of the Indigenous Peoples we have studied have traditions of thankfulness (or thanksgiving) for surviving winter and for receiving crops and game for their hard work.

The northern Siberians, the Sami, Northern Chinese, Mongolians, Koreans, and many other northern peoples are related to Native Americans and some cultural components have transferred with migration.

Large numbers of the Western Hemisphere's indigenous groups migrated from the Eastern Hemisphere approximately 12,000 years ago. Some historians feel that an earlier wave of migration occurred 48,000 years ago.

Migrant populations eventually traveled across what is now North America to Greenland and Iceland, overlapping Polar and Sub-polar Peoples through intermarriage and further migrations. Thus, groups of people are genetically related around all the polar regions of Earth.

In addition to DNA and blood-based genetic markers readily found to match, Polar and Sub-polar Peoples show similarities customs, their languages and dialects, and in their feast days that celebrate thankfulness.

I am related to Mohawk Nation in the US. Native Americans give thanks first to every animal whose life they take in order to have food and clothing. They give thanks to the Great Spirit for their crops, from seeding to harvest.

It is the Harvest Feast Days that some non-Native persons may recognize as a type of Thanksgiving ceremony - they are centuries old and centuries older than those ceremonies of the early Scandinavians, Italians, Portuguese, Pilgrims, Puritans, Spaniards, Polish, Dutch, French, Acadians, Huguenots, English, Germans, and others who came and took land from the Indigenous peoples.

Thankfulness for Food and Harvest

The native thankfulness for crops and months later for surviving the winter, all shown in Feast Days, is thousands of years old - 12,000 to 48,000 or more years old in America and part of these traditions came from East Asian countries from where Native North Americans migrated over time.

Another similarity is in Origin Myths - Native Americans often have the story that the Earth was formed on the back of a turtle and some Asian countries have the same story.

In Sami/Saami lands like Lapland and other sub-polar countries,an Indigenous belief is that a Reindeer pulls the sun up into the sky in the east every morning. In Asian legends, it is a dragon with the antlers becoming the dragon's hair-streamers. In First Nations, some myths say it is a Buffalo or Elk, with streamers changed back to horns or antlers in artwork.

Some Ceremonial Days

Each month of the calendar is marked by its full moon and Native Americans named these moons. I received the names below from some North and Northeastern US Native Americans at a Pow Wow. Other tribes or nations call the moons by other names.

  • January - Wolf Moon
  • February - Hunger Moon
  • March - Maple Sugar Moon
  • April - Planter's Moon
  • May - Budding Moon
  • June - Strawberry Moon

Harvest festivals were maintained in North America and probably in Mexico and the Americas in August, September, and October of every year, from around 10,000 BC or earlier. This predates anything by the earliest explorers coming to The New World from Scandinavia and Western Europe.

  • July - Blood Moon
  • August - Green Corn Moon
  • September - Harvest Moon
  • October - Hunters Moon
  • November - Beaver Moon
  • December - Cold Moon

Today, these festivals of thanksgiving to the Great Spirit and to nature for crops and life are still celebrated in homes, at Pow Wows, and on reservations. Many nations have thanked the Great Spirit for providing abundance after the first full moon of September.

NOTE: The Harvest Thanksgiving Festival of Sukkoth is over 3,000 years old itself, Hebrew in origin, and celebrated by many Jews around the world, including in America. That would place their first celebration sometime around 1000+ BC, before the Spanish and English Settlers' Thanksgivings in The New World in the 1500s and 1600s.

The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival
The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival | Source

Harvest and Thanks Festivals

The Asian Connection to Giving Thanks

Asian customs and traditions are often seen within Native North American cultures.

Thankfulness for food and clothing makes sense in Asian and North American native cultures, just as good stewardship of all resources do. This is inherently Asian in nature and inherently Native American in nature.

China celebrates the Harvest Moon Festival between mid-September and mid-October. Many of the legends of the Chinese Harvest Festival did not come over to North America. However, the September-October period is the same time in which many Native Americans celebrate a harvest festival of thanksgiving.

Both cultures have celebrated with many fruits, vegetables, grains, small cakes, and other foods prepared for eating and for keeping through the winter.

With the Chinese, the Harvest Festival of thanksgiving began as moon worship in the Xia and the Shang Dynasty back to 2000 BC, then the Zhou and the Tang Dynasties (through 907 AD).

The moon worship part dropped out in the Southern Song Dynasty in 1127, when people sent moon shaped cakes to relatives as as sign of wishing a family reunion.

During the Ming and Quing Dynasties through 1911, the celebration was one of a party and wishing relatives the best. There have been dozens of other activities associated with the festival through the centuries.

Three Major Native North American Thanksgivings

Asian cultures as well as their North American tribal descendants participate in moon and harvest festivals, based in their own cultural beliefs and customs. A variety of such festivals are found with different elements added, all across Asia,

In America, First Nations and Native Americans marked time by the sun and the moon, a moon being a month, with the Full Moon being the most important night/day of each month. This is similar to the Lunar Calendar used by many Asian cultures in the past and present.

Feast Days (festivals) were held at each Full Moon around North America, the type of celebration led by the customs of the Indigenous Nation involved.

However, Autumn seems nearly always to have been the time of three different Native North American thanksgivings, celebrations of

  1. The Green Corn Moon,
  2. The Harvest Moon, and
  3. The Hunters Moon.

Thus, there were three thanksgiving feast days (holidays) every fall before the "white men" came to the Western Hemisphere. The whites had their own commemorative festivals in The New World and sometimes there was a joining of Native Americans and Whites.

Mayan Dance near the time of the Green Corn Moon

The Green Corn Festival

This Festival of Thanksgiving and Forgiveness lasts at least three days.

Native Americans have celebrated this festival after the first full moon in August (sometimes September), when the corn is a certain height - the young corn for a first tender harvest. The nations that celebrated and celebrate this holiday include: Iroquois (7 nations, including Mohawk, in New York, Pennsylvania and surrounding areas, also near New England), Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, and Yuchi.

Some others may also observe the holiday -- There are thousands of nations, bands, pueblos, and official communities within just the US itself.One cannot record everyone's habits. The Santa Ana Pueblo people of New Mexico, celebrate again on July 26, before August and sponsor a dance and fiesta as well.

A number of activities have been observes during this holiday, including initial fasting and cleansing, praying, and building a scared fire that is not to burn out during the days of feasting (like the Olympic Torch). Some groups believed that the young harvested corn contained a female spirit that they called First Woman. Otherwise, the Great Spirit was thanked for everything.

Roasted corn is first eaten in celebration of the first young harvest and is followed by cornbread, corn soup, tortillas of maize in the Southwest, game caught by the hunters of the group, fruits, and other vegetables. here are also games, dancing, and singing. Drumming circle cannot be forgotten.

Hawaiian Dance at Harvest Moon Festival

The Harvest Moon Festival

This is the Thanksgiving of September when a full harvest of corn, fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, fish, and small game. and other foods are gathered together. Originally, the Native Americans thanked every living thing around them for helping them to live through sacrificing themselves to be food and clothing.

This is similar in part to the Animistic religion of early Korea and some other Asian nations, in which all living things have a spirit. With Native Americans, the animals and crops were not worshiped, but they were thanked. Festivities have included a lot of dancing, dancing contests now held at pow wows, singing, drumming circles, games, and other activities.

This holiday has historically presented thankfulness for life, food, shelter, and clothing. The Great Spirit, a single God, was thanked for all of it. After this celebration, hunting big game for the winter food supply began at full force.

Chinese Harvest Moon Festival Today

Tibet - Harvest Moon - Steps Similar to Native American

Feast of the Hunters Moon

Today, this holiday is celebrated in September or October. In Indiana, for instance, it is celebrated at the end of September. The Feast of the Hunters Moon in Indiana recreates the old annual gathering of the French and Native Americans at Fort Ouiatenon trading post in the early 1700s.

Before the 1700s, and especially prior to 1500, the Native Americans in the Midwest and Northeastern US celebrated by themselves, or with neighboring hunting bands. This was not something initiated by people in Indiana at the time, as some sources state.

The Native Americans had, in fact, celebrated it for centuries and, as other sources describe, had begun to drift away from it as the Europeans began over-hunting the ranges of America.

The current Indiana celebration includes all the crops and game foods that the Native Americans have always enjoyed in thanksgiving, along with French traditions, and military re-enactments.

In Kentucky, the holiday is celebrated in Grand Rivers in October. There are also several small celebrations throughout southern Ohio. The Hunter's Moon Festival is not celebrated as widely overall today as as the Green Corn Moon and Harvest Moon Festivals. This may be because hunting is not such a large part of life any longer for many Native Americans.

Feat of the Hunter's Moon Fort Ouiatenon

© 2008 Patty Inglish MS


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    • goldenpath profile image


      10 years ago from Shenandoah, Iowa, USA

      Thanks for the information! I am closely mingled with the Potawatomi nation through my wife and have become a great advocate for the Native Americans. Thanks again.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      LDSNana-AkMorman -- Thanks so much for reading this. between JD Murrah and me, we aretgetting at the true history more closely.This would make a good school project for someone.

    • LdsNana-AskMormon profile image

      Kathryn Skaggs 

      11 years ago from Southern California

      This is a great Hub, filled with some of the most interesting info.



    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Hi Steph! - jimmythejock really opened up an intriguing topic request about Thanksgiving and JD has a lot of American facts about the Southwest traditions.

      I even got my Cajun Thanksgiving recipes out and will post those soon. Glad you stopped by!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Marshall 

      11 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Patty, this is so thorough and interesting! I am going to have my 5th grader read it (he loves history and culture). Beautiful moon photos and lots of super information about harvest festivals. Great work!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks JD - I've been waiting a long time to use some of this information. I'm glad I could offer it here. Along with your Hub, readers will understand more about Thanksgiving in America. This was a good request, to answer wasn't it?

    • J D Murrah profile image

      J D Murrah 

      11 years ago from Refugee from Shoreacres, Texas


      A wonderful hub. It was fascinating and thought provoking. It tied together some loose strings of knowledge that I had wondered about concerning the moons. I am glad you wrote it.



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