We have a wonderful museum in our town, The Longmont Museum and Cultural Center. They currently have an exhibition going on entitled “Around the World in 80 Dolls,” which takes the classic novel by Jules Verne and displays dolls from the countries all over the world that the character(s) in the book visited. When I heard about this exhibition I thought “I could probably do a display like that!” I have been collecting dolls from around the world since I was a young child. Every time my grandparents and my father would travel, they would bring me back dolls from where they had been. I have also picked up dolls from my own travels and elsewhere throughout the years. I have always wanted to display them more, but I have so many, and no room or a large enough display case. As I was putting away the few that I had pulled out for Halloween/Day of the Dead and looking at their beautiful details, I had an idea. Why not start a sort of online “museum” display? I have so many dolls from so many countries rich with tradition, and the dolls tell stories about those traditions through their dress and details. I can pull out a certain group each month and I will post a little bit about some of the dolls and a bit about the traditions and holidays of the region/country of those dolls. This is also an activity that my girls will love, and will teach them about different cultures and traditions, as well as the history of dolls and how various dolls have been made. It will also be an opportunity for me to display and enjoy my beautiful collection!
For November, I will start with North America, or more specifically the United States and Canada, and the tradition/holiday of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is a holiday that is celebrated in the United States on the 4th Thursday in November. It was made a national holiday on Oct. 3, 1893 by president Lincoln, but dates back many many years before that.
The main story of Thanksgiving that is told is the one of the 3 day feast held in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. It was a celebration of a successful corn harvest and was a way of sharing and giving thanks between the two groups of people. There is some controversy around this however, as there was so much controversy between the European settlers and the Native Americans, and some people disagree with the celebration of this history. This is really only one story that was written in our history, and it has kind of shaped how and when the holiday is celebrated, but theses types of celebrations date back way before that time.
Harvest celebrations have been going on for thousands of years by many different groups of people. The pagan celebration of Mabon, celebrated during the autumn equinox is a celebration of thanks for the harvest and the changing seasons. Many Native American tribes celebrated the harvest with ceremonies such as the Green Corn Dance.
The celebration that took place in 1621 was not religious, as the puritans did not believe in public religious displays, but it later became a holiday infused with religious ceremony and tradition, when in 1789 a member of the House of Representatives moved that “a day of Thanksgiving be held to thank God for giving the American people the opportunity to create a Constitution to preserve their hard-won freedoms.” The motion was approved, and the president George Washington then proclaimed that the people of the United States observe “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” on Thursday, the 26th of November (made a national holiday in 1893.) Today, some people still have religious services on Thanksgiving, but it is mostly just a day in which families and friends can come together to share abundance, tell stories, and give thanks for all the blessings in their lives.
Canadians also celebrate Thanksgiving, but it is held on the 2nd Monday in October, and is not quite as big a holiday as in the United States.
I have a wide assortment of European-American and Native American dolls made from all sorts of materials. Several of my dolls are made from corn cobs and husks. This type of doll used to be made by Native Americans, and was then taught to the early European settlers who adopted this art form and way to make toys for the children out of the resources they had. I also have a doll made from clothespins, a spinning bobbin, straw, and a seed pod.
One of my dolls is a cloth doll from Plymouth Rock, dressed in traditional pilgrim wear:
I also have two “kitchen” dolls, a wonderful grandmother churning butter,
and the figure of a black doll that is also a dinner bell. Semi-controversial because of the painful history of slavery, but part of our history none the less.
Among my European-American dolls are also a set of Amish, who began immigrating to Pennsylvania in the 18th century.
I also have many Native American dolls of different types. Several of them are Navajo, and show various aspects of Navajo life such as weaving, riding horses, grinding corn, and caring for the children.
I also have this very old doll, made with horse hair:
A hunter in buckskins
And one of my favorites, a dancer. She has so much movement and life:)
The one doll I have from Canada is this beautiful Eskimo.
The early American dolls I have are a beautiful representation of a combination of cultures in the United States and Canada. Through their dress and activities they come together to tell a rich story of tradition and history in North America. In the tradition of Thanksgiving, I will close by giving thanks for all the beautiful cultures around the world that are able to share their stories through dolls. 🙂