‘Christmas Comes to Moccasin Flat’ was published in the Spring 1967 edition of the Poetry Northwest magazine. It is one of the earliest poems written by the Native American writer James Welch. This poem shows some episodes of a few Native Americans who live within a community. Their lives have nothing new except that of their past burden of cultural loss. They pass their lives in a usual fashion though it is the time of Christmas.
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‘Christmas Comes to Moccasin Flat’ by James Welch describes how a group of Native Indians observe the coming of Christmas.
In each stanza of this piece, Welch shows what different individuals do on Christmas. It is just another day of their lives, filled with poverty, hopelessness, and grief. The wise men brought candles on credit for the day. While the warriors indulged in excessive drinking, trying to forget the good old days. Furthermore, Welch describes how others kept themselves busy in their usual way of living. In totality, he draws a picture of a landscape that is devoid of festivity or joy, in stark contrast with the essence of Christmas.
You can read the full poem here.
Welch’s poem ‘Christmas Comes to Moccasin Flat’ contains a total of five quatrains or stanzas having four lines. Each stanza is concluded with an end-stopped line. It means Welch presents a particular idea in respective stanzas. He dexterously joins them together to uphold the main idea of this piece. Besides, it is a free-verse poem. It means there is no regular rhyme scheme or meter in the text. However, Welch uses a number of internal rhymings within the lines.
Welch makes use of the following literary devices in ‘Christmas Comes to Moccasin Flat’.
- Enjambment: It occurs in each stanza of this poem. This device is used to connect the lines internally. For instance, the second part of the first line is enjambed with the second and third lines.
- Alliteration: This device is used in “Christmas comes”, “poor price”, “fire with flint”, etc.
- Personification: It occurs in “Winds cheat to pull heat from smoke”, “Elk play games in high country”, etc.
- Imagery: Welch uses visual imagery throughout this piece in order to portray the lives of Native Americans.
Christmas comes like this: Wise men
and bar, stabs his fire with flint.
Welch’s poem ‘Christmas Comes to Moccasin Flat’ begins with a description of the way Christmas comes in a conventional indigenous Americans’ community. The speaker of this piece shows what the people from his community do during Christmas. It is important to note the tone from the very beginning. While reading, it seems, the speaker has a deep-rooted trauma in his heart while he sheds light on others’ lives. Besides, there is no essence of joy in their hearts either. Everything is just the same as it was the day before.
In this community, the old and the wide are unhurried. They buy candles in credit as they have not gotten a good price for their calves while the warriors drink excessively. They sleep during Christmas with their face down in intoxication. The poet depicts how the winds make it extremely difficult to light a fire in the last line. This line contains the use of personification.
In the following stanza, readers come across the activities of a group of friends who sit in their chinked cabins and stare out of their plastic windows. They don’t even have enough money to repair their windows. Besides, they wait for their commodities. There is one person named Charlie Blackbird who sits twenty miles away from the church as well as a bar. He struggles while making fire by striking flints.
When drunks drain radiators for love
or need, chiefs eat snow and talk of change,
a peculiar evening star, quick vision of birth.
Blackbird feeds his fire. Outside, a quick thirty below.
In the next stanzas of ‘Christmas Comes to Moccasin Flat,’ the speaker focuses on others’ activities. The drunks drain their car radiators either for love or need. At the same time, the old chiefs taste snow and talk about the change that took upon them. They are waiting to laugh heartily for days. How can one laugh when they have lost the most important things of their lives?
To be specific, Christmas is not the day they ease their heart out. It is not the time for their religious merry-making. The day is venerated for those who don’t even hold hands with the indigenous people during their traditional celebrations.
In the next lines, the speaker talks about elks that play games in the high country. The medicine woman sets her clay pipe and fills it with tobacco. She calls all the blizzards by name and predicts the time by looking at her television. At the same time, the children wait to hear a story from her.
Though it is Christmas, the warriors have not forgotten their tradition. While they return from hunting with their traditional songs, the speaker finds something about honor and passion in their eyes. The evening star and the quick vision of Christ’s birth do not make their hearts happy. They long for the days that are gone. Blackbird feeds his fire in the chilling cold outside.
James Welch’s poem ‘Christmas Comes to Moccasin Flat’ records the activities of different Native Americans during Christmas. His focus is on the humdrum course of their lives.
The poem was first published in 1967. It appeared in the Spring edition of the Poetry Northwest magazine.
The title of the poem hints back to the days of cultural assimilation that took place during the European settlement. They brought their religion with them and uprooted the deep-rooted beliefs, and cut the cultural ties existing in Native Indians. This poem shows what this cultural infiltration impacted their lives.
The following list contains a number of poems that similarly tap on the themes of James Welch’s ‘Christmas Comes to Moccasin Flat’.
- ‘Looking for Judas’ by Adrian C. Louis — This poem is about how the Christian religion played a role in colonizing the Native American people.
- ‘A Christmas Childhood’ by Patrick Kavanagh — This piece explores the themes of memory, coming of age, and imagination.
- ‘What the Orphan Inherits’ by Sherman Alexie — This thoughtful poem describes a Native American child’s experience contending with the world as an orphan.
You can also read about the best-known Christmas poems.