Bbon was a challenging time for Great Lakes tribes. Small families moved into the forest seeking shelter from the snow and cold. As resources declined, food that had been collected from the previous month’s hunts, harvests and gatherings were shared. To supplement winter supplies, Potawatomi ice fished, hunted and trapped small game. Meats and fish smoked and dried earlier were kept on elevated pallets to deter theft from animals and other camps. Crops such as corn, beans and nuts were stored in basket-lined pits. Staying warm indoors, Potawatomi did crafts and told stories, waiting for mnokme to return.
December was known as Aptebbongises (Mid-Winter Moon). This was the time when elders told stories, passing on oral traditions and history. Stories taught us who we were as Potawatomi and our place in the world. The travels of Wiske or Nanabozho were recounted in our oldest stories, which were forbidden to tell while snow was not on the ground. The cold, lean season inspired stories of the Windigo, a man-eating creature that hunted in blizzards, possessing and devouring the ill willed.
Bbon is also the season of Kchemkogises (Big Bear Moon) and Mkogisos (Little Bear Moon). Observed in January and February, these moons appear when bears seek shelter from the extreme cold. Safe in their winter dens, female bears give birth to cubs. Potawatomi honor the new litters with winter ceremonies of health and well-being.
Winter ceremonies celebrated survival and the renewal of an approaching new year. As the bears emerged from their dens, Potawatomi emerged from their winter lodges to welcome spring again. Completing the seasonal cycle, our ancestors understood their place upon Sekmekwe (Mother Earth) and the delicate balance among all living things.