Sunday, December 16, 2007

Etsy Admin, Vanessa, contacted me to write about how my family celebrates Kwanzaa. I have to submit it tomorrow, so of course I put off writing it till the last minute!
Anyway, for the few folks who check up on me, you get a preview! Blessings on Tasha, who helped SO MUCH!!

Kwanzaa- A Handmade Holiday

By Antb

As we set the table for Kwanzaa my youngest daughter Grace sets out baskets and sings The 12 Days of Christmas, repeating the phrase, “Two Turtle Doves” about a half bajillion times.

Grace, honey, that’s the wrong holiday,” I tell her.

“Oh right. Harambee then!”

Together we set fake fruit in the baskets to represent the harvest. Renee and Jasmine finally find the kinara, the special candle holder, and begin arranging it on top of the mkeka mat. Jens and Tasha bring platters full of fresh fruit, crackers, corn and peanuts in from the kitchen.

“Who remembers the seven principles of Kwanzaa?” I ask. Everyone crowds closer around the table, picking the piece of fruit which will represent them in the basket. Nearly everything on the table is handmade, including the pine needle baskets, made by my sister who learned the craft from the granddaughter of a slave who learned it from her grandmother.

(Caption- Gracie lights the Umoja Candle)

“Umoja!” Grace yells. “That’s my candle.” She carefully lights the central black candle.

“And that means Unity,” I remind her.

“Kujichaguilia,” Jasmine says, careful not to say “Goochee-Goo-Ya” as she did as a child. “It means Self Determination.”

(Caption – Jasmine lights the Kujichaguilia Candle)

“Ujima- Collective Work and Responsibility,” Renee says.

“So you’ll be doing all the chores?” I deadpan. Nobody responds.

“Ujamaa, which is Cooperative Economics,” Jens says, stealing a cracker from the bowl.

“Does Etsy count?” Tasha asks.

“Sure does!”

Snow hurries us on to her candle. “Nia. Purpose.” She has dropped by on her way to work and wears her uniform instead of the usual brightly colored dashiki shirt.

It’s my turn now. I light my candle. “Kuumba, Creativity. By the way, how are everyone’s gifts coming along? Do we need a craft store run?”

The kids look guilty. While everyone no doubt has a plan for the handmade gifts we give each other on January 1st, I have a feeling they’re in the Kuumba stage and don’t have much Nia. (Caption- I wonder if Renee has her gifts made?)

“Imani,” My husband, Danny says. “Or Faith. And then we name our ancestors.”

Kutoa Majina. For honoring those who have gone before us, maybe they’ve died, maybe they no longer live with us, but they’re a part of us anyway.” The kikombe cha umoja, or cup of togetherness is filled with sparkling apple juice and set front and center during the seven days of Kwanzaa. I think it’s a pretty good chalice, considering I made it my first year of ceramics class.

Tonight, we pass the cup and everyone names someone who has influenced their lives. We drink a toast to them.

“And then Jens drums!” Grace says.

(Caption – A little celebration drumming)

“And what part does bingo have to do with all this?” Jasmine asks cynically.

I smile. “That’s the part that’s uniquely us. That’s the fun of Kwanzaa.”

“Actually, weren’t there lots of games of chance played during holidays and festivals all over the world? So I’m pretty sure there is an African tradition somewhere that would translate into something like bingo,” interjects Tasha.

“Leave it to a Pagan to rationalize bingo during an African holiday,” Jens laughs.

Jasmine won’t be put off, however. “Mom, come on. White parents, black kids. Hel-loo! How does Kwanzaa compute in a family like this? Most of the black kids in my school don’t even celebrate this, why do WE?” Grace looks up expectantly – she senses a story coming.

(Caption – Grace waits to hear a Kwanzaa story)

I think back to when our family grew in one day from a family of four, to a family of nine. It’s been almost fourteen years, but I still feel tired when I think of the chaos and sheer busy life that happened when we adopted a sibling group of five kids from Chicago. The Barry family was as white bread as could be, how were we going to teach these children about their heritage? I couldn’t see my kids finding a lot of pride in their adopted Viking forefathers. My sister asked me if we were going to celebrate Kwanzaa, now that our family was mostly African American. I think she was joking, but the idea appealed to me on many levels: It would be a dedicated time of year to talk about African American role models and heroes, it was based on a blend of older African traditions and rituals and I could pick and choose what worked best for us, it was all about what we as individuals could do when we worked together – an idea I was anxious to instill in my children as part of a newly blended family, and it was about handmade – homemade - taking little and making it more through creativity and a little work, using what you have, honoring the handmade, noticing craftsmanship, taking pride in what we can do ourselves.

Yes, this was a holiday I could embrace! I couldn’t ignore the signs of a commercial Christmas all around, but I could make Kwanzaa into the handmade, family centered holiday I had always wanted for my family.

(Caption – The Kwanzaa table is set)

“Jasmine, we celebrate Kwanzaa because I am the mom, and I said so.” “Yes Mom,” she answered obediently, rolling her eyes. “Can we play bingo now?”

“Help me with the food, and then I get to call the numbers first!” We set up a buffet with southern food and spicy African dishes. As the kids pick their bingo cards, and find pillows to sit on, I look around at my family, and find myself completely content with life. This is how a family holiday is supposed to be.


(Caption – Ant with Orange Slice)

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