The Creek Solar Calendar, Green Corn Festival and New Year’s Festival

It has very ancient roots and is quite different than the Maya and Central Mexican calendars . . . yet was equally as accurate as our contemporary Gregorian calendar. The Creek Solar Calendar consisted of twelve 30-day months, plus a 5-6 day New Year’s Festival as determined by astronomer-priests, known as Keepers of the Day.

The time between sunrise and sunset was divided into either 8 or 16 hours, which varied in length throughout the year. Even though the Creeks used a 10-based numerical system, with trigonometry it was only possible to calculate the number of radians on a circle, divisible by two. Chickasaw, Upper Creek and Apalachete (Highland Creek) plazas were ellipses, which functioned as giant sundials.

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

The now 287 year-old wooden chest, containing the so-called Creek Migration Legend contained many other reports from Georgia Colonial Secretary Thomas Christie. The “Creek” Migration Legend was actually the transcript of a speech by the High King of the Creek Confederacy to the leaders of Savannah, which included his description of the migration legend of the Kaushete Tribe, a prominent member of the confederacy.

Christie also recorded the very different migration legends of other confederacy members . . . but none of the tribes, which spoke the Muskogee language. There is NO Muskogee-Creek Migration Legend surviving. In addition, Christie recorded variations in architecture and the celebration of the Green Corn Festival amongst confederacy members. He realized that the Creeks had two calendars . . . and extremely accurate one based on the sun and a lunar calendar which set the dates for seasonal festivals.

According to the Kaushete Migration Legend and other documents by Christie, the Chickasaw, Alabama, Kaushete and Apike were the founding members of the first Creek Confederacy . . . The People of One Fire. The Chickasaw were also prominent members of the Apalachen Confederacy and latest confederacy, formed in 1717 at Ocmulgee National Historical Park. The Chickasaw dropped out in the 1720s over the adoption of the language spoken by the Coweta becoming the official parliamentary language of the Confederacy. That language is now called Muskogee, but the word didn’t exist until the late 1740s.

A “Creek” Village in Tabasco State, Mexico . . . 1920s

The Creek New Year is not the Green Corn Festival

Creek Calendar

North Americans anthropologist seem completely unaware that there are “Maya tribes” in Tabasco and southern Veracruz states that share many cultural traditions with the Creek Indians of the Southeast.  They include a Solar Calendar beginning on the Summer Solstice, the Green Corn Festival, Stomp Dance, social dances holding hands, eating corn on the cob (no other Mexican tribes do this!), grits, tamales, hush puppies and barbecue.  The Creeks have also forgotten their ancestors’ “World Class” skills in mathematics, surveying and astronomy.  

In particular,  some late 20th century books by Professor Charles Hudson of the University of Georgia (The Southeastern IndiansElements of Southeastern Indian Religions and Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa) mixed up and fabricated religious practices of the Southeastern Indians.  For example, Hudson wrote extensive passage about Creeks in the town of Coosa having a custom identical to the Chinese New Year’s Day Dragon Dance. . . pure poppycock.  He equated the Green Corn Festival with the New Year Celebration . . . Not True.

Old family reunion photo (late 1800s) in my grandmothers office desk

Until the 1970s, my mother’s family held a family reunion each summer as a celebration of the Green Corn Festival. Some of my happiest memories of childhood were at those reunions. As Cousin Ray will verify, if he is reading this article, the elders determined the date of the reunion based on phases of the moon and the progress of the sweet corn crop.  The date of our celebration of “the ripening of the roasting ears” varied each year.  *Roasting ears are fresh ears of sweet corn, eaten on the cob.

Thomas Christie confirmed the validity of our family tradition.  In 1734 and 1735, he intentionally visited the Green Corn Festivals of Georgia Creek towns from the mountains to near the border with Spanish Florida.  He stated that each town has a different date for the Green Corn Festival.  It was determined by being on the Full Moon nearest the time when the new corn ears were suitable for eating on the cob. It was a one-two-day community feast, characterized by lots of food, singing and dancing . . . a big family reunion.  

Creek towns in northern Florida and deep Southern Georgia would have their festival in late March.  Creek towns in the Southern Appalachians might not have their festival to late July or early August.  When I lived in the Reems Creek Valley of North Carolina, we could not even plant corn until mid-or-late May.  In contrast, the Creek New Year celebration always ran from five or six days up June 21st . . . the Summer Solstice. 

Chikili and his wife, plus other leaders of the Creek Confederacy, walked from Coweta, which was then located in Macon, GA (where Amerson Park is today) to Savannah to meet with Georgia officials on June 6.  He left in time to preside over the New Year Festival in Coweta on June 16th-21st, where he would tell the assembled Creeks what he and seen and heard in Savannah.  This is stated at the end of his speech.

It is possible that the ripening of the fresh corn coincided with the New Year Festival in the region around Ocmulgee National Historical Park, but this was definitely not the case for all of the Creek Provinces.  Prior to the early 1700s there, were Creek Provinces as far north as Southwestern Virginia, possibly even the Shenandoah Valley in the early 1600s.  Until after the American Revolution, Chickasaw Territory extended to the vicinity of Paducah, Kentucky on the Ohio River.

Creek New Year Festivals were much more complex and included both religious and political ceremonies. It was the time when couples announced their one-year trial period of living together or got formally married at the end of a year.  There was political campaigning and elections for clan leadership, plus both houses of the legislative branch.  The High King was elected for life, unless impeached.  His privy council was appointed by the House of Warriors . . . the equivalent to our Senate.  Women and men had equal political rights. 

Women could be elected to most elected and appointed government positions, except those involving warfare.  There were undoubtedly many vendors in booths on the main plaza. There were social dances for teenagers and single adults.  Unmarried teenagers and adults went on dates together, if they hit it off at the dance.  There were athletic competitions and dancing competitions.  Musical concerts, much feasting and partying with vast amounts of Yaupon Holly tea being consumed went on night and day.  Yaupon tea contained four times the caffeine of coffee.

The high point of the New Year Festival was he rekindling of the hearths on New Year’s Day (June 21st)  The day began extinguishing the fire in one’s home and a public announcement of one’s wrongs, followed by public forgiveness of people, who had wronged you.  The was followed by ritual baptism via a nearby river, which symbolized being washed of sin and being born again out of the water (Okvni).  Couples and single elders would then journey to the temple to obtain a coal, from which to rekindle their fire.  According to the Kaushete Migration Legend, the original fire for the Sacred Fire of the People of One Fire (Creek Confederacy) came from the lava of the Orizaba Volcano in Mexico.

Proto-Creek and Creek observatories were placed on mountain or hill tops, unless the terrain was flat . . . there, vertical timbers were used exclusively.

Calculating the Creek New Year

Proto-Creek/Creek towns and agricultural cultivation plots were laid out formerly by surveyors.  Their temples and public buildings were aligned to the solar azimuth.  This important difference from other North American tribes was quickly noticed by the early settlers of Savannah, GA.  For surveyors to accurately survey the terrain, they needed to know precisely . . . True North-South-East-West.  As far as we know, magnetic compasses were not utilized.

Observatories in the Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont were constructed of stone and vertical timber posts upon mountain tops, natural mound ledges and large hills, such as Browns Mount near Macon, GA. Most of these stone observatories were oval, not round.  In the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains, perfectly circular arrangements of large, dressed tree trunks were constructed near flat plazas.  These are called woodhenges.  The ones in Georgia predate those at Cahokia, Illinois by at least 800 years . . . probably much longer.

Woodhinge at Kolomoki

Using the complex arrangements of structures,  Keepers of the Day, were able to determine the daily location of the sun, moon, planets and stars.  They could measure the sun’s movement across the sky each day.  With this information they could create a detailed annual calendar, plus determine Truth North-South-East-West and probably, latitude.

The Creeks had a writing system at least as late as the 1730s, but quickly switched over to the Roman alphabet to facilitate commerce with British in Georgia, the French in Alabama and the Spanish in Florida. I have some examples of the Creek writing system’s symbols.  It seems similar to that of the earliest known writing system of the Olmec Civilization.   It certainly was capable of storing astronomical information.

2022 Muscogee Creek Nation Festival

The Muskogee-Creek Annual Festival

Each year, the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma sponsors a grand festival around the same time as the Summer Solstice.  Admission is free for everyone, regardless of membership status in the MCN.   The festival is neither labeled a New Year’s Festival nor a Green Corn Festival, but is much more similar to the traditional New Year’s Festival, since it includes dancing, entertainment, political events, music performances, a marketplace and athletic competitions.   I have been to one of them and they are 10 times more fun than a county fair.

I couldn’t resist doing this spoof! The background is a young people’s race at the Muscogee Creek Nation Festival. The graytone figure is moi at age 16 at the Atlanta Regional Highschool Track Meet. There is a funny story about this photo in the Atlanta Constitution. At 16, I was tall and lean, so only ran sprints for the track team. A mid-distance runner became sick with food poisoning, so the coach threw me into the 880 yard race to replace him, knowing I would finish in the back of the pack. All the other runners thought I was a cousin, who was a state champion long distance runner. They let me pace most of the race, until their coaches realized that I was not Mike. It was too late and I sprinted into the finish line first. Only time that I have ever been pictured on the AJC sports page. LOL That summer my football coach put me on a heavy weight-lifting, high protein diet that turned me into a lumber jack shaped tackle, who could outrun ball carriers. He was a good coach. We were undefeated, but I was never a lanky sprinter again.

3 Comments

  1. Hi Richard, I love festival celebrations, we used to have one in England at Ludlow near where we lived. Part of it was held in Ludlow Castle and part in the town square where all decorations were put up and of course the pubs were always full. Love the photo of your family.

    Liked by 1 person

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