There are several Native American holidays and traditional festivals. Most tribes have their own individual celebrations, but many of the holidays have common themes or purposes. The holidays often celebrate nature, the spiritual world, or people's ancestors. Popular holidays might honor the sun, the rain, or crops needed to sustain life. Many holidays stretch for a week, rather than just one day.
The start of the new year is honored by some Native Americans, although many tribes have selected different dates as the last day of the year. The Hopi and the Zuni both celebrate a new year's celebration on 22 December. This ceremony is called Soyal, and it is a time of renewal and purification. A ritual is conducted to welcome the sun back after winter.
The Makahiki new year festival is celebrated in Hawaii in October. It celebrates new beginnings and honors the Hawaiian god Lono, who represents fertility, music and rain. There are three phases of Makahiki, with the first consisting of purification and spiritual cleansing. During the second phase, the Native Hawaiians celebrate with hula dancing and athletic competitions. The final phase honors Lono and tests the tribe's current chief to ensure he is still worthy as a leader.
The Tewa Native Americans celebrate three dances throughout the year honoring a different animal each time. The year begins with a turtle dance, which remembers and honors the day of creation. For three days in October, they celebrate with the deer dance, which represents both femininity and masculinity. The next month, the buffalo is recognized, and the Tewa see this as a time of healing and life.
Native American holidays often celebrate the sun as a life-giving power, both physically and spiritually. The Inca called their sun god Inti, and they celebrated him during the Inti Raymi. This festival traditionally begins on 21 June, the southern hemisphere's winter solstice. The celebrations consist of elaborate dances and the wearing of many bright colors. Originally, animal sacrifices were offered in hopes of an abundant year.
The tribes typically celebrated the rain as often as they honored the sun. The Iroquois and the Mayans both held rain celebrations during their wet seasons. The Iroquois thunder ceremony was held for a week in mid-April, with celebrations during the ceremony including rain dances and story-telling sessions that pass along mythology explaining the cause of rain, clouds, and lightning.
Many of these holidays are about food, crops, or hunting. The Zuni, Cherokee, and Iroquois all have holidays to celebrate the growth and harvest of corn. Other crops honored among common Native Americans are squash, strawberries, and maple trees.