Cold Moon Potlatch

December’s Full Moon is called the Full Cold Moon. It is the month when the winter cold fastens its grip and the nights become long and dark.  This full Moon is also called the Long Nights Moon by some Native American tribes.

Last Quarter: December 6, 10:31 A.M.
New Moon: December 13, 3:42 A.M.

First Quarter: December 20, 12:19 A.M.


Native American Tribes all have ancient tradition of fall and winter feasts to break up these harsh nights. Here in the Pacific Northwest they were often associated with Potlatch Feasts.

From – The idea of filling an empty place, or celebrating the end of something with a generous gift back to the community, is something intrinsic to gift economies, a kind of giving that (Lewis) Hyde names (in his book) the “threshold gift” or the “gift of passage,” and we see it with great clarity in the Native American tradition of the potlatch.

What these (potlatch) sponsors got back was prestige among their peers. Those that gave a potlatch enjoyed increased reputation and a more highly prized social rank. The more gifts that were given, the more valuable these gifts became and the more respected their givers became. Hyde restates this in terms of commodity markets by saying that “Capital earns profit and the sale of a commodity turns a profit, but gifts that remain gifts do not earn profit they give increase.”

We earn something by our own effort, and earnings cannot be given to others. Profits, too, are generally kept by their earner and any gain in value to profits returns to the earner. The gift economy is the opposite. We cannot earn a gift through our own efforts, it must be given to us. And once we have it, it gains value only when we give it to another member of our community. Value follows the gift rather than remaining with the individual, and an increase in value comes only to the community as a whole. 

In popular culture we imagine Native American’s starving during frigid winter’s on the plains, but in reality, starvation became much more common when tribes were relegated to reservations and their food sources and economic systems were destroyed.  If you read the history of James Town and “first Thanksgiving”  it doesn’t take long to realize that it wasn’t the Native American’s who were starving, it was the Europeans. Here is an account from Edward Winslow in 1621: “At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.  And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

The Pacific Northwest is bountiful with food and it makes me wonder what the history of the United State would have been like had the Europeans gone the other way around. What if they had landed here first? Below is a list of some of the more common food stuffs in the Pacific Northwest Native diet –

Nuts: Hazelnuts, Acorns
Berries: Blackcap Raspberry, Cranberry, Elderberry, Huckleberry, Salal, Salmonberry, Saskatoon (Service Berry), Soapberry, Thimbleberry, Wild Blackberry, Wild Strawberry
Fruits: Bitter cherry, Chokecherry, Crabapple, Current, Gooseberry, Indian Plum, Wild Rose
Wild Greens: Cat- tail, Cow Parsnip (Indian Parsley), Fiddlehead Ferns, Fireweed Shoots, Horsetail Fertile Shoots, Nettles, Sprouts (salmonberry or thimbleberry shoots), Spruce shoots, Wild lettuces – (spring beauty, violet), watercress
Roots/Bulbs: Camas, Biscuit Root (wild carrot Lomatium), Bracken Fern Root, Lily Roots (several possible varieties), Pacific Cinquefoil, Springbank Clover, Wapato (Indian Swamp Potato), Wild Onions Bedstraw (Cleavers)
Other: Maple sugar (possible), Mustard, Seaweed, Kelp (with herring row), Chickweed, Dandelion Greens, Lamb’s Quarters,
Meat and seafood:  Clams (many types),Geoduck, Muscles, Gooseneck barnacles, Oysters, Shrimp, Crab, Seal, Octopus, Salmon, Smelt (eulachon), Halibut, Ling cod, Sturgeon, Trout, Duck, Grouse, Deer, Elk, Bear

I’ve talked about Potlatch before, but now I suggest that you try it out. This is a perfect time, and in the spirit of giving maybe you should celebrate Thanksgiving with a Cold Moon Potlatch of your own. Maybe, in the course of our celebrations, we can stop making up mythic stories about our “Pilgrim forefathers” think about re-defining what it means to be American.

Seaweed Salad

Olympia Oysters on the Half Shell

Chantrelle Mushroom Risotto with Sage Brown Butter Corn and Seared Scallops

Clam Fritters

 Thanksgiving Crab Cakes

Roasted Duck

Salmon Berry Crunch

Sauvignon Blanc


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