Cherokee Indians celebrate each new moon in a specific manner in accordance with their religious beliefs. During their history, Cherokee Indians settled villages in the Tennessee River as it runs through the Appalachian Mountains into Virginia and northward. They were farmers, hunters and gatherers who relied on the earth to provide for their people. The nature of their lifestyle caused them to be especially in tune with the seasons and nature. The earth provided both sustenance and knowledge. Many modern Cherokee people continue tradition observances.
The Cherokee Calendar of Celebrations
Cherokee Moon ceremonies are based on the thirteen phases of the moon and are recognized on the event of a new moon. Each observance is intended to guide the Cherokee people in spiritual and cultural growth within the Cherokee way of life. The special times of reflection usually fall within the 12-month calendar, with an additional "half month" in June. October is the month of the Harvest Moon and is considered the beginning of the Cherokee Moons. March begins a new cycle of planting.
The Significance of the Number Seven
Throughout the seasons, other rituals and observances occur during specific festivals. Festivals are generally religious in nature and continue for several days. Extensive organization is given in preparation for each festival. The number seven has significant importance in Cherokee culture. This fact is reflected in the rituals of the festivals. Seven represents the highest level of purity that can be reached. The number appears frequently in Cherokee mythology, traditional stories and festivals. There are six main traditional festivals, according to Cherokee Nation. A seventh festival occurs once every seventh year. The festival is refer to as the Chief Dance.
Festival Planning and Preparation
Adults who wish to follow the traditions of their ancestors take part in the celebrations. Children take part in games and listen to the elders tell stories. Each of the festivals includes specific dances by men and women at designated times. Other rituals include purification by water, fasting, and medicine by the Medicine Man. During the Mature Green Corn Festival, "Black Drink" is given for purification. Fasting is followed by feasting. All seven clans participate in the festivals. The number seven continues to dominate assignments during the festivals. Often, seven men or seven women are chosen for food preparation or planning. The day of the First New Moon of Spring is determined by seven Principle Councilors.
The Green Corn Ceremony takes place in March. The Mature Green Corn Ceremony follows the Green Corn Ceremony by 45 days. The Great New Moon Festival introduces the new year. Cherokee believe that the creation of the world took place in the autumn. The Friends Made Ceremony takes place 10 days after the Great New Moon Festival. No specific name or month is given to the winter ceremony. This ceremony includes precise directions for a ritual dance filled with symbolism. The Cherokee believe that trees are sacred. Therefore, fire is also a sacred element of these ceremonies.
Cherokee National Holiday
Many Cherokee continue to observe the traditional sacred traditions. In addition, a more contemporary holiday celebrates the signing of the 1839 Cherokee Constitution. Since 1953, the Cherokee Nation has celebrated their independence on Labor Day weekend in September. The Cherokee Indian people travel from all over America to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, to renew old friendships and celebrate with games, food, music and authentic Cherokee wares.