Wampanoag Cranberry Day
The Wampanoag celebrate Cranberry Day on the second Tuesday in October, and it is an excused absence for Wampanoag children enrolled in Island schools. The following information about Cranberry Day is from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).
About Cranberry Day
The tradition of giving thanks to the Creator for a good harvest is an ancient one, both for the Wampanoag, as well as for most people who are not Native American. As you read the questions and answers about our celebration called Cranberry Day, compare it to the U.S. national Thanksgiving holiday celebrated in November. Cranberry Day is the most important and meaningful holiday of the year for us.
What is Cranberry Day?
Our people have always had a cranberry harvest celebration. Cranberry Day is one of the many thanksgiving celebrations that happen throughout the year. Our ancestors have always taken time to go to the bogs and harvest the cranberries together; that is why Wampanoag children have the day off from school. During the morning and throughout the day only tribal families come to bogs to harvest. After everyone has had time to harvest, all the families get together and have a community lunch. Some of the elders tell about cranberry days from their past before we eat. Then, while we eat, some of the men and boys drum and sing. Although the day’s activities are for our tribal families alone, we invite our neighbors to come to a pot luck dinner during the night. Some families cook foods using the cranberries, so everyone can get a taste of the harvest.
Why is Cranberry Day so important to the Wampanoag?
Cranberry Day is an important holiday for the Wampanoag tribe because it gives us a chance to give thanks to the Creator for this fruit that has always helped our people survive. The cranberries are stored and used throughout the winter to help vary our diet. In the old days, fishermen who went out to sea for a long time would take cranberries with them, knowing that the vitamin C in cranberries would prevent sickness. In the old days, some of the harvest was sold on the mainland and the money was used to purchase items that weren’t grown on the island, like molasses and sugar. We have continued to celebrate the Cranberry harvest, remembering the different ways the cranberry has helped us. That is why Cranberry Day is an official Tribal holiday.
What did the cranberry harvest celebrations at night include?
Dancing, eating good food, singing and socializing with friends new and old.
What food was served at Cranberry Day celebrations (besides cranberries)?
Chowder, quahogs and venison! The meals that are eaten during the celebrations are called potluck. Every family or individual makes different dishes to share and you never know what someone might bring. At celebrations like Cranberry Day, everyone looks forward to different families’ making their own personal specialty, which is often a community favorite.
What did the tribe do with all of its cranberries?
Gladys Widdiss, a Tribal elder, recalls cranberry days of her youth.
“We picked for two or three days, enough for what we figured we needed through the winter and more. While waiting for our elders to finish picking in the afternoon, we would race cranberries down the dunes. We would make a trough from the top of the dunes to the bottom; sometimes snake like, some times straight, and set the cranberries in a line at the top; push them to start, and see whose reached the bottom first.”
Helen Manning, a Tribal elder, remembers arriving at the bogs in an ox cart and filling up the carts with the cranberries they picked to store them for the remainder of the year. She remembers that a friend’s parent, another member of the Tribe, had a room in their house just for storing the cranberries that had been picked during the three-day festival. Not having central heating throughout the house kept the rooms cool, and the cranberries lasted through the year. Helen remembers the story, “that my father, as a young boy, used to go into the room and enjoy hearing the popping sound as he stepped on the cranberries”. Helen said the cranberries were used for very simple recipes. Her mother used them to make cranberry dumplings, cranberry sauce and cranberry cobbler. Helen said everyone had a cow in those days, so the cobbler would be served with fresh cream.
How is Cranberry Day celebrated today?
Instead of a three-day harvest festival, the Wampanoag of today hold a one-day holiday. Children are excused from school and together, tribal members of all ages harvest cranberries. At lunch, everyone sits around an open fire while the elders share stories of their past with the children. Elders also share tribal stories, such as the legend of Moshup (hard link to Helen Manning’s legend of Moshup text). In the evening, there is dancing and singing. The tribe gives thanks to the Creator for the harvest, as we have done for thousands of years.
The Wampanoag tribe tradition of Cranberry Day is a celebration of the ripening of the last wild cranberry of the year. For the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) Cranberry Day is more about culture and heritage than the pragmatic crop-gathering aspects of 100 years ago.
"We would get enough cranberries to last the winter," said Beverly Wright, Councilwoman for the Wampanoag Gay Head (Aquinnah) Nation in an interview for Martha’s Vineyard magazine. "When I am out here I think how important these bogs were to our ancestors," said Tobias Vanderhoop, Gay Head (Aquinnah) Nation. "This is the harvest that comes at the midway point in our native year. Our New Year is in the spring."