Reflections on Kwanzaa 2012

Computer issues and Nook limitations have delayed me blogging a bit…so this post is a little later than I wanted. But, as I explained over the last nine posts, I am always learning and expanding my understanding and celebration of Kwanzaa, so I’m going to wax ethnic for a few paragraphs.

First, a little background–my first encounter with celebrating Kwanzaa was through my church, and while in retrospect I heartily appreciate the efforts of the lady who organized it, the service was boring, confusing and just another time-killer, as far as I was concerned. After a while, she asked if I would take over doing the Kwanzaa services (or she asked if someone would, and I somehow got roped into it). I believe I started doing these in 2002 (which made this year’s my 10th service), and my intent was to make it as easy, relatable and meaningful as I could. I figured if I didn’t get it, nobody else would. I consulted This Far By Faith, an African-American inspired hymnal for the Lutheran Church, which had a page devoted to Kwanzaa and its celebration. There were references in that resource page that connected Bible verses to each of the Seven Principles that are the foundation of Kwanzaa, which gave me a simple way to connect our worship service with the cultural observance (I ran across issues about using the verses as a part of the Kwanzaa service itself, so I took them out to avoid stagnation and butting heads–but I may revisit the point one day). For me, at the very least, the connection of the accustomed worship service with a heritage-based celebration that emphasizes principle that are very much in line with our Christian walk gave me a deeper spiritual fulfillment and a stronger desire to be a better global citizen–in other words, build my faith and then take it to do great works.

I am met with varying responses when asking for participation in the services–some avoid me and/or church that day, some will read if I physically put a part in their hands (and most of those are my family), and a very few volunteer. While the service went well, it was underattended, and for the second year in a row, the karumu (feast) had to be cancelled. The karumu is the fellowship portion of the Kwanzaa celebration–food, conversation, etc.–and usually combines the New Year’s food traditions as well (cabbage and black-eyed peas for luck and money). While a great deal of this year’s defection centered around the Who Dat Nation whooping some Panther tail (and, as a Who Dat National, was completely understandable), it still saddened me to see the disinterest. I mean, that could have been one incredible tailgate party! But, I can’t force everyone to have the same experience as I do–I can only hope they take away from it the sense of community, pride and motivation to elevate our brothers and sisters that was intended from Kwanzaa’s creation.

Apart from my church’s observance, I have come across some…well, I don’t know if hostility is the proper word, but that’s the feeling I got…let’s say, resistance regarding the holiday. A FB friend asked who celebrated Kwanzaa in a status, and someone answered that it seems separatist in today’s PC world. Which, of course, you know got my back up. True, it is Afrocentric–and considering the vast majority of negative Black images we’re assaulted with on a daily basis, you’d think something positive and uplifting would be well received–but it is in no way exclusionary. Christians have been invited by Jewish friends to celebrate Hanukkah with them without a wrinkle of the brow, so why should someone of non-African heritage feel unwelcome at a Kwanzaa observance? Unless I missed the memo that said white people (or Latinos, or Asians, et al) don’t care about community building, working together for a common goal, having a purpose and creativity, and nurturing faith, ANYONE is welcome to join in. It frustrates me that distinct celebrations of culture are considered separatist (though I venture that your average tequila drinker wouldn’t dare say that about Cinco de Mayo) without even a token effort to discover anything about it. Theoretically, I could same the same thing about President’s Day since only 44 people would qualify. However, my only screaming goes on in my head…and then I proceed to calmly and rationally educate folks so that it seems less scary.

Overall, I hope to fully celebrate Kwanzaa in my home, my church and my community, and have it extend into every day of the year. And after that see it accepted, if not wholeheartedly embraced, as a reaffirmation of strength and faith…by greater numbers each year, laughing and stronger.

What are YOU thinking?

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