The Iroquois Midwinter Ceremony is held either in January or February. The exact time is determined by when the dipper appears in the sky directly overhead. The Iroquois wait for the new moon, which signals the beginning of the spiritual year. The Ceremony starts five days after the new moon appears. The celebration, which includes a variety of traditional events, lasts for nine days. During this time, new council members are chosen for the coming year.
Who Observes the Celebration?
The Midwinter Ceremony is observed by all of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Six Nations are: Cayuaga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Senaca and Tuscarora.
New Year's Ceremony
The Midwinter Ceremony is also known as the New Year's Ceremony because it marks the beginning of a new ritual year. The Ceremony is announced by the Big Heads, who are masked messengers. The Big Heads visit the longhouse and invite everyone to join in the celebration.
Each tribe has its own way of conducting the Ceremony. However, the Stirring of Ashes is usually first on the agenda. The symbolic gesture shows the gratitude of the tribe for the blessings that it received during the previous year. A public naming event takes place and all children born the previous year are given an Native name. The Bear Dance and Feather Dance, traditional Iroquois dances, are also part of the Ceremony.
Dream Sharing Ritual
The Iroquois believe that dreams represent a cure for disease and mental disorders. The Dreamsharing Ritual is a part of the Midwinter Ceremony. The event encourages people to share their dreams, so others might interpret them. Once the dreams are interpreted, the medicine men of the False Face Society perform a curing ritual.
Many Native American celebrations include tobacco as an important element. The Midwinter Ceremony is no exception. The Tobacco Invocation sends a message of thanksgiving to the Creator and is a request for blessings on the future growing season.
White Dog Sacrifice
In the past, the White Dog Sacrifice was one of the highlights of the Midwinter Ceremony. Today, dogs are no longer sacrificed. They have been replaced with a white basket.
When the Midwinter Ceremony draws to an end, a speaker gives and overview of the events that occured and a thanksgiving address. This is when the new council, which was chosen during the Ceremony, is introduced to the people. A new ritual year begins at this time.