Do you celebrate Kwanzaa?

That is the question people ask you when you are the only black person around for miles and if they have ever even heard of Kwanzaa, which gets old quick.

Quick lesson on Kwanzaa from The, a terrific website centered around African-American concerns and Wikipedia for the uninformed:

Maulana Karenga, a  black nationalist and current chair of Africana studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966 as the first specifically African-American holiday. During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga said that it was meant to be an alternative to Christmas, that Jesus was psychotic, and that Christianity was a white religion that black people should shun. However, as Kwanzaa gained mainstream adherents, Karenga altered his position so that practicing Christians would not be alienated, then stating in the 1997 Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, “Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday.”

Here’s the thing.

My kids are swirls.

Years ago when it was just the two boys and they were little, I brought them to where black folks were often. My cousin, who is a black radical, invited me to a Kwanzaa celebration at a community center around her way. Problem was, a day or two before, a white person who wanted to attend was barred admittance. Then the local news sent another white person over with a crew  and they were asked to leave.This got a lot of cover because, really, what is there to talk about after Christmas besides sales? Nothing. 

So I mentioned this news item to my cousin, who is one of my best friends and who shoulda known better, ‘cuz I wanted to bring my whole family. (My boys were wild toddlers then; I went no place without back-up.)

 She says,” Hmmm..Well, that would be interesting. You could try it.”

I was like try it?

I didn’t want to be on tv if we were all thrown out for fighting.

I  not want the kids seeing their dad being excluded and, besides, what was he supposed to do the ‘hood while we are at the thing for two hours…he didnt need a haircut. (Inside balck joke, ask a friend to ‘splain.)

We didn’t go.

I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa.

Why? Because in America, we don’t make up holidays.

We have them to honor people who have died. Witness: MLK, jr, President’s Day, St. Patrick’s, Easter and Memorial Day

 Or to remember events where people died. Witness: Fourth of July and Labor Day( think sweatshops pre labor laws) 

We also commemorate love with Valentine’s, Mother’s/Father’s day and Thanksgiving

It can be argued that the latter are all hallmark holidays but they don’t exclude anyone- matter of fact, they go out of their way to try to create cards to sell to every one for the first three: for ‘a female caretaker’, for ‘a special male role model’. Thanksgiving was started yes, with the damn Pilgrims and marked the beginning of the end for native people, but it was a lady from New Hampshire named Sarah Josepha Hale who wrote Presidents for years trying to create a tradition to unite the country. Key word, unite.  Abraham Lincoln finally agreed at a time of great civil divide, so Thanksgiving could also fit under the heading of events when people died.

Back to me and my cousin.

She suggested I write to the creator of Kwanzaa and ask him all my questions. At the time, I did not know all that is explained in the opening paragraphs, so her suggestion confused me. Since when do we have access to people who create holidays?In America, holidays are associated with death. Meaning, you have to be dead to get one. The deader you are, the better your chances.

Right along with  holidays associated with death, people do not just go around making up random holidays. 

Lastly, as a Christian, I’m exhausted after Christmas. I am pageanted, advented, nativitied, shopped, baked, decorated, carolled and greeted out, ok? I got nothin’.

I actually think Kwanzaa would have had a better chance of lasting had it NOT been at the time it is, but with the original intent being as an alternative to Jesus, that wasn’t an option. (Spread Kwanzaa throughout black history month and ill-informed teachers would be less likely to talk about slavery so much or the ‘evergreens': Rosa, Martin, Thurgood, Carver and Cosby.)

 Most of the time, I just say no when asked whether I celebrate this event. But if the person persists, and if I think they will actually pay attention/understand while I explain my reasons, I’ll tell them. In the couple of times I’ve misjudged who to tell, which I know by their glazed eyes or the uncomfortable look on their faces like,’ Wow, lady, relax’, I think to myself, “Hey, you asked.” One of these days I’ll have the nerve to say it.

4 responses »

  1. Love this Deb! I get asked a lot too, “so, do you celebrate Kwanza with them?” … It feels like a sort of accusation, or test question. And the more I try to explain why we don’t (the same exact reasons you note in your post), the more defensive it ends up sounding. Awesome post— thanks! –hbj


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