On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: 12 drummers drumming, 11 salmon swimming, 10 hunters hunting, nine Tlingit dancers, eight warriors paddling, seven cedar baskets, six eagles soaring, five totem poles, four ravens calling, three button robes, two killer whales, and a Keidlidee in a pear tree.
"The European version of The Twelve Days of Christmas contains unfamiliar cultural elements, so this song was rewritten to reflect Tlingit values and incorporate familiar sights and sounds of our villages.
"The Keidlidee is a bird that resembles a small seagull.
"The killer whale represents one of our two primary clans. In the past, we actually had a Killer Whale Longhouse that housed many families. (It might be similar to an apartment building today, as opposed to individual family dwellings.)
Our crests and clan names describe where we came from (genealogy), and are never worshipped.
"The button robe (commonly called the "button blanket") is worn by all Tlingit dancers, and is common throughout many coastal tribes in the Pacific Northwest, Western Canada and Alaska. It is usually black and red, and has many buttons for the border and sometimes for the crest.
"The raven is a common sight in our village, Hoonah. If you haven't seen one, they look like a crow on steroids. All Tlingits belong to either the Raven Clan or Eagle Clan. So, of course, we must include ravens in this song.
"Totem poles tell our stories, or particular events, or honour a person or family. We don't worship them. Some Christians think they look like giant crosses and assume that Indians worship anything that looks like a cross. (Sorry to disappoint you amateur missionaries and anthropologists.) So, if you think that getting "five golden rings" is valuable, imagine five totem poles! That would be worth so much more to us, especially since you can pay $1,000 to $1,500 per foot for a new totem pole today.
"Eagles may be the most common bird in Hoonah, mostly bald eagles. And, of course, they are the opposite clan to the ravens.
"Cedar baskets are what we used before Tupperware. If you really want to give your true love a gift, the cedar basket will long outlive any amount of Tupperware you could give. If you live in the Northwest, you could even join a basket weaving society and make them by hand!
"Saturday, I went over to my cousin Jack's, where we are getting a canoe ready for the summer. We will be out on the ocean, paddling to land on the Quinalt Reservation for the Gathering of Canoes. Our war canoe holds 12 to 16 people. When most of your food comes from the ocean, a big canoe full of warriors, hunting gear and space for the catch is a very thoughtful Christmas gift. (You could substitute a gill-netting trawler if you can't find a war canoe or any warriors.)
"Tlingit dancers come out for potlatches (parties, giveaways), funeral memorials, weddings, celebrations, clan gatherings, public performances, and almost any other excuse to dance we can find. We are different from the powwow dancers, in that we only know how to dance as a group. We don't have individual dances or competition . . .
"Ten more hunters, please. We used to hunt a lot more. Most of our privileges and traditions have been taken away. So getting "10 hunters hunting" is a dream and wish and hope we hold up highly.
"People in Hoonah consider themselves poor if all they have to eat are salmon, because salmon are everywhere. It is our major food, and there is no finer sight and smell than a smokehouse full of salmon!
"The hand drum we use ranges from 10 to 24 inches in diameter. We also use the box drum, which somewhat resembles a wooden footlocker with the lid taken off, and then it is tilted on edge and hit on the side. We love our drums. No, we don't worship them, or salmon gods - and we don't get to take our drums to church either. For some reason, they seem to make Christians nervous.
"Well, with all these explanations, you can now comfortably learn and sing the Tlingit version wherever you live - be our guest." View Website Here
Best of the season to you...