Visions of chokecherries…

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Illustration by Gary Robinson.

Book Review by Deborah Locke

“Native American Night Before Christmas” is so cute that I wish I had a three to five year old relative to read it with this very moment. The retelling of the classic “Twas the Night Before Christmas” poem substitutes flying buffalo for reindeer, a chubby Old Red Shirt for Santa Claus, moccasins hung from a lodgepole instead of stockings hung from a chimney, and “Hoka-hey!” instead of “dash away all!”

The colorful, sweetly illustrated children’s book by Gary Robinson ends with a familiar sentiment to American Indians of all ages: “Merry Christmas to All My Relations and to all a goot night.”(Yes,”goot”, not “good” but they mean the same.)

It tells the story of Red Shirt’s team of white buffalo that annually delivers fry bread, commodities, golf clubs, and toys from a wooden sleigh. Consider this:
“The moon and the stars in the night sky were a blinkin’ – Like the headlight that shines on my ’69 Lincoln. When what to my wondering eyes did show – but an old wooden sleigh and eight buffalo. With a plump little driver who looked so well fed, I thought for a bit he was flying fry bread.”

Native American Night Before Christmas
illustration by
Jesse T. Hummingbird

Note to the adults in the room: you must admit that the Lincoln headlights and fry-bread-fed driver is clever. So is the artwork, masterfully illustrated by Jesse Hummingbird (Cherokee). A short glossary at the end defines words like medicine bundle, commodities and chokecherries. “Hoka-hey” is a Lakota term that offers encouragement, words Old Red Shirt shouts while encouraging the flying, and perhaps short of breath, buffalo.
For a child, the poem presents an old story in a new light, complete with a Native Santa clad in buckskins, beadwork and carrying a medicine bundle. If that’s not tradition, I don’t know what is. As for the adults sharing the story, this is a poem that will at the very least, make you smile.

Author Gary Robinson is of Choctaw/Cherokee descent and lives in southern California. The book is published by 7th Generation, and is available through Amazon, Follett and Orca Books. The cost is $14.95.