A Christmas-themed totem pole is a key element in my recently published The Gold Rush Christmas, and highlights the creative way in which the nativity story can be expressed.
In my story, adult twins Samantha and Peter journey to Alaska in search of their missionary father during the 1897 Gold Rush. The boy next door, seminary student Miles, joins them in an attempt to woo Samantha’s heart. All three learn valuable lessons about how God can use your dreams to fulfill his purposes.
The story ends at Christmas, since this is part of A Pioneer Christmas Collection. The twins finally find their father on December 24, living with a Tlingit tribe along the eastern shore of the Lynn Canal.
He’s just finished carving a totem pole for the native people he loves, that tells the story of Christmas.
While in writing the novella I thought I could probably figure out a totem pole that tells the Christmas story, Google led me to Rev. David K. Fison , who is generously allowing me to share his.
The Tlingits carved totem poles to help them remember their stories as they had no written language. According to Rev. Fison, “the characters and symbols on a pole provided an outline to help them remember stories, legends and events so they could be retold to future generations.”
Rev. Fison has lived and ministered in Alaska since 1961, begining as pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Ketchikan. While serving as an interim pastor at the nearby Tsimshian village of Metlakatla, he decided to translate the Christmas story into the native language.
But traditional Christmas characters such as shepherds and angels were unknown to the Tsimshian people.
Rev. Fison’s further research at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks revealed the cultural equivalents. Shepherds, for example, would be keepers of the village fish traps. Rev. Fison felt the common character Raven could serve as an angel.
In 1987, he completed a twelve-foot tall yellow cedar totem, which you can see in the photo.
He also sells twelve-inch replicas of the totem pole. One sits on a table in my living room today.
I’m fascinated by stories that show us Christianity through the eyes of a different culture. In my first novella, The Dogtrot Christmas, the couple realized that a dogtrot cabin symbolizes how Jesus can bridge cultural difference.
In a post I wrote several years ago, “Slash Marks the Very Good Trail,” I discussed how the Ecuadorian Aucas explained who Jesus is, according to the movie End of the Spear.
It’s important to remember Jesus was not an American.
His story is accessible to anyone who wants to understand the son of God came into the world to redeem sinners. Click to Tweet
Thanks be to God.
I’m grateful Rev. Fison took the native traditions and devised a colorful version to remember the good news of the Christ child come to earth. He also provided me a key to the totem. Reading down, the characters are as follows:
Joseph is a woodcarver, represented by a man holding a canoe paddle (for the journey to Bethlehem)
Mother and Child, of course, are Jesus and Mary. Rev. Fison notes “the village is filled with visitors to the Potlatch,” the gathering called by a powerful chief to display his wealth and power!
The Bear is the closest he could come to a domestic animal representing Jesus was born in a manger.
The Chief is one of the wise men.
Potlatch Chief represents King Herod. You’ll note he’s upside down and in Frog’s clutches–symbolizing he was outwitted by Frog!
Thank you, Rev. Fison!
The opportunity to win autographed copies of both A Pioneer Christmas Collection and A Log Cabin Christmas Collection, ends on Wednesday December 11. Join the raffle and get a free copy of A Pioneer Christmas Collection’s 31 page Christmas cookbook (sent via PDF)!