Happy Kwanzaa or Merry Christmas? Or Both?
Eight years ago as a single mama I was conflicted as to whether or not I should create a tradition of Christmas or Kwanzaa celebration for my oldest daughter. Then, I was a borderline radical Afrocentric, vegetarian, type mama who balanced my Christmas/Kwanzaa dilemma by placing presents under a Kwanzaa table. I didn't grow up celebrating Kwanzaa. I watched my mama decorate a tree every year after Thanksgiving. My daddy played songs like This Christmas and Santa Claus go Straight to the Ghetto while we trimmed the tree. On Christmas morning my mama stood in her housecoat at the stove making our Christmas breakfast: grits, eggs and a few slices off the dinner ham. Back then my sister and I could not open presents as soon as we woke up. We had to wait for the closed-in carport turned den to rise to a temperature of my mama’s approval. The torturous ten to fifteen minutes after my daddy lit the room’s kerosene heater seemed like forever until my sister and I could sit on our designated sides of the tree to rip open presents until we turned the floor into a sea of wrapping paper. One day on the phone I announced to my mama that I would celebrate Kwanzaa and not Christmas with my oldest. My shaky proclamation was met with a disapproving ‘mmmhmmm’ which had scant overtones of ‘here she goes again with this Afrocentric stuff ’. ‘I want to celebrate the principles of Kwanzaa with her.” I begin to explain. ‘We can learn Black history…she can learn about what it means to give and not about just receiving presents. We can make presents!” I added excitedly. ‘Don’t you bring homemade presents over here.” “Ma!” “What would you make? What child doesn't want presents at Christmas?” She had a point. Even grown folks want presents at Christmas. While I knew my mama had over twenty years of family Christmas tradition under her belt. I also knew that she was a woman who took part in the tradition, like her mama, to put only dolls that looked like my sister and I under the tree. Not to mention she and my daddy gave numerous, unsolicited Black history lessons growing up. At the then age of five my oldest daughter was becoming more and more seduced by the Christmas songs and school Holiday craft projects then she was by Kwanzaa. Starlit dotted trees and everything from lamp posts and electric poles adorned with colors of candy apple red and pine tree green were like steroids to her Christmas dreams. My intention was not to be a Grinch by any means. My motivation to trade in the Christmas tree for a Kwanzaa table was fueled by my belief and researchers claims that messages and practices, i.e. celebrating cultural holidays such as Kwanzaa to underscore its importance or talking about important figures in African American history, teach children about racial–ethnic heritage and provide the child with a sense of racial–ethnic pride. I was, as I am today, hard pressed to find other Black families who wanted to trade in their Christmas tree for a Kwanzaa kinara. However, recent debates over Black Santa and disdain by parents when a teacher told a Black student to not dress like Santa Claus because Santa Claus is White lead me to believe in some way other parents of children of color struggle with the White vs. Black Christmas balance. But, with mostly White Santa’s on Christmas wrapping paper, in the movies, sitting in the mall and on almost every Holiday card, balance is hard to find. Now married with three children I recognize that for my parents it has been more about celebrating family tradition than a Christmas tree. I want that for my family. I want to see my own kids sit in a sea of wrapping paper too. I haven’t yet decided to give up on celebrating Kwanzaa. At least for right now I have come up with a new Christmas/Kwanzaa compromise that I think works best for me and my family. Now the presents sit under the Christmas tree, with the Kwanzaa table alongside.
Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa!