Lots of times when I bring up Kwanzaa to my family and friends, they react in one of a few ways:
- The sigh: You know the sigh, it’s the: “not this shit again,” sigh. The: “here you go on that Black shit again.” sigh. Or the: “why you trying to take away Christmas from me?” sigh.
- The awkward silence: You know the blank stare and “why you have to bring this up again” silence. Or the maybe if I just don’t respond you will stop talking silence.
- This shit is made up defense: This is my favorite; people will argue to me that this holiday is made up and therefore we don’t need to celebrate it. Ummmmm, aren’t all holidays made the f up. So, because this was made up in our lifetime means that it isn’t valid?
However, I continue to persevere with the belief that we should all celebrate Kwanzaa. And I know what you’re asking. What does it mean to even celebrate Kwanzaa?
I want to ask you, what does it mean to celebrate Christmas?
WARNING: Tangent Alert! WARNING: Tangent Alert!
December 21st is the Winter Solstice.
The Winter Solstice marks the beginning of winter and it marks the shortest day (sunlight) of the year and the longest night (moonlight) of the year.
Our ancestors celebrated this celestial event, with festivities, food, family and friends. Because winter was here and food may be scarce and night or darkness would cover the land until the sun returned.
In all actuality, this event marks the beginning of the sun coming back to us. It just takes mad long.
Through the colonization of the world by Christians, Christmas and the Winter Solstice were combined.
And the solstice became Christmas and signifies the birth of Jesus. But you know Jesus was not born in the winter right? But you ain’t hear that from me.
How do we celebrate Christmas?
So, we got family, presents, and food, also known as stress, consumerism and over eating.
Oh and if you’re religious you gotta add Jesus. So it’s family, presents, food and Jesus. But we (Americans/Christians) didn’t always celebrate Christmas.
In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention a date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.
And Christmas didn’t become an official US holiday until 1870 (whispering: 5 years after the end of the Civil War.)
So we go to church to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. We open presents. We decorate trees and our homes. We gorge on food and we maybe talk about peace and good will for all.
Now back to Kwanzaa.
Founded in 1966 by Maulana Karenga (a problematic asf dude). He created Kwanzaa to be a cultural celebration and not a religious one, so it could be celebrated alongside Christmas and Hanukkah.
Kwanzaa is a way for us to connect to the African indigenous past. It is about building a diasporic centered ideology. It’s here to connect us and reconnect us to our ancestors.
Kwanzaa starts the day after Christmas on the 26th of December and on each day you light a candle and focus on the principle aligned with that day.
You would decorate your house and specifically your table with fruit or crops to represent the harvest. You would have a Kinara which is a candle holder and the RBG colors. (Y’all know what RBG represents? The Red Black and Green Pan Africanist flag created by Marcus Garvey’s UNIA during the 1920s. You knew all of that, right?)
You would have a communal cup and ears of corn to represent the children and you would have gifts (like the gifts that sit under the Christmas tree). Each night family and friends would gather around the candle, light it, discuss the principle, celebrate through music and storytelling, drumming and laughter. On the night of December 31st, the family would have a great big feast to celebrate Kuumba or creativity and the next day gifts would be exchanged on January 1st. These gifts would be educational in nature, they would be thoughtful and reinforce the connection to community.
Kwanzaa is done.
To celebrate Kwanzaa is actually utilizing the principle of Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility.
To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
Culturally Responsive Education and Collective Work & Responsibility
For me, an important tenet of CRE is to help students self actualize in order to solve their own problems, the problems in their family, the problems in our community and the problems of the world.
Because let’s face it, we got problems and we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.
“One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.” -Desmond Tutu
For us to work collectively we must see ourselves tied to one another. We must be our brother and sister’s keeper.
And since school is our great indoctrinator, we must begin somewhere and I say, let’s begin with Kwanzaa.
That means you must begin NOW (because we won’t be in school during Kwanzaa).
So where can you start? With the end in mind.
If you’re willing to introduce, reinforce or deepen your students’ or your colleagues’ understanding of Kwanzaa, what do you want them to know or do?
If you don’t know much, use this time to learn together.
Can you introduce a different principle everyday?
The 22nd: Imani/Faith
The 21st: Kuumba/Creativity
The 20th: Nia/Purpose
The 19th: Ujaama/ Cooperative Economics
The 18th: Ujima/Collective Work and Responsibility
The 15th: Kujichagulia/Self-determination
The 14th: Umoja/Unity
Can you align your objectives to the principles? Can you take one class day and engage in a celebration or conversation of Kwanzaa, or holidays in general?
As I’ve said before, the holiday season isn’t all shits and giggles for everybody. For some people this season evokes sadness and loneliness and disenchantment. And for others it’s happy happy joy joy.
Regardless of if you’re an atheist, or you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa this is a prime time to deepen your relationship with students and to do it with joy and purpose.
We will be dropping posts from now until the 22nd focusing on these principles and it is our hope that you discover something new and share it with those you love and teach.