Saturday, December 5, 2009

Merry Hanu-Christma-Kwanzaa-kah

Musings from the Greenhabilitator...

Since adopting two of our children from Ethiopia, we've gotten a lot of questions about what holiday(s) we'll be celebrating. Mr. Greenhab was raised in a Jewish family -- even bar mitzvahed! -- but is pretty much atheist at this point. I was raised in a Christian family, but have a hard time believing that one religion is right while all the others are wrong.

In general, we're both of the mindset that family and friends are to be cherished, that we should help others who need it, that we should be life-long learners and instill a love of learning in our children, and that others' beliefs are just as valid as ours, even if we don't necessarily agree with said beliefs. We observe (recognize?) most of the Christian and Jewish holidays, but focus more on family than the religious aspects.

Most people ask if we'll be celebrating Kwanzaa now that we have two African children. In Ethiopia they actually celebrate Christmas, but it did get me curious to learn a little bit more about Kwanzaa beyond the limited "Christmas-type-holiday-celebrated-by-African-Americans" knowledge that I already had. If you're not familiar with the holiday, visit this or this site which I found to be very informative.

Kwanzaa consists of seven days of celebration, featuring activities such as candle-lighting and pouring of libations (hello - you had me at libations!), and culminating in a feast and gift giving. Sounds a bit like Christmas and Hanukkah?

The next part though was what made me say "hmmm".

Kwanzaa builds on the five fundamental activities of Continental African "first fruit" celebrations: ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment, and celebration.
  • A time of ingathering of the people to reaffirm the bonds between them;
  • A time of special reverence for the creator and creation in thanks and respect for the blessings, bountifulness and beauty of creation;
  • A time for commemoration of the past in pursuit of its lessons and in honor of its models of human excellence, our ancestors;
  • A time of recommitment to our highest cultural ideals in our ongoing effort to always bring forth the best of African cultural thought and practice; and
  • A time for celebration of the Good, the good of life and of existence itself, the good of family, community and culture, the good of the awesome and the ordinary, in a word the good of the divine, natural and social.
How can one really argue with these points? Gathering together with friends and loved ones is obviously one of the most important parts of the holidays for the religious and non-religious alike. Although I'm not sure why we only do it around the holidays.

When it comes to "reverence", I have to admit that evolution makes more sense to me these days than creation but, nonetheless, I do still marvel at the wonder and beauty of our earth. No matter how it - or we - came to be, it is amazing.

And regardless of what religion you are, learning from the past, remembering ancestors and what they're done for us, recommitting to our beliefs, and celebrating life all seem like very good ideas.

Here are the actual seven principals of Kwanzaa. Keep in mind that these are meant to relate to the African American community, but think of how they apply to our lives and, especially, to the ideals that we discuss here on a regular basis.

1. Umoja (Unity) To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.

When I think of unity these days I think a lot about President Obama's campaign in which he preached dropping the partisan politics and focusing on the fact that we're all one country that needs to come together in order to rebuild, just as the creator of Kwanzaa felt that African Americans needed to come together to rebuild their people.

2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.

Again, you have to understand that this was meant for people whose voice had been taken away. But as part of the green/sustainable/healthy/organic movement we have had to speak up for what we want, what we believe and what we refuse to accept. Take the BPA issue, for example. For years we were told that "Nah, it won't hurt you. It's okay to have a little BPA in your body." But as concerned consumers we had to stand up to the FDA, doctors, and manufacturers to tell them that we just wouldn't accept that.

3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems and to solve them together.

This may be the single most important thing for our family. To us, "community" isn't just the zip code where we live. Community means the children at the inner-city school where my husband teaches. He runs after-school programs for them so they're not out on the street getting into trouble. We make the problem of poverty and hunger in our city our problem by collecting food at Thanksgiving to hand out to families in need. When a friend is sick we do what we can to help. It's our responsibility because it is the right thing to do.

4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

5. Nia (Purpose) To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

We've been talking about these points in depth here on the Green Phone Booth - buy handmade, buy from local small businesses, support mom and pop. It will help to (re)build your community because local business owners are more likely to put the money you spend back into the community.

6. Kuumba (Creativity) To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

I know that we're all believers of this point. That's why we not only try to tread lightly, but each of us uses his/her own strengths in a unique way.

7. Imani (Faith) To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Perhaps one of the best parts of Kwanzaa is the day of meditation on January 1st.

The last day of Kwanzaa...has been for African people a time of sober assessment of things done and things to do, of self-reflection and reflection on the life and future of the people and of recommitment to their highest cultural values in a special way. Following in this tradition, it is for us then a time to ask and answer soberly and humbly the three Kawaida questions: Who am I; am I really who I say I am; and am I all I ought to be? And it is, of necessity, a time to recommit ourselves to our highest ideals, in a word, to the best of what it means to be both African and human in the fullest sense
This is reminiscent of what we typically do on New Year's when we make our resolutions. It should, however, be a deeper self assessment that we do on a much more regular basis.

Who am I; am I really who I say I am; and am I all I ought to be?

"Who am I?" is a question that led us to this green journey in the first place. "Am I really who I say I am?" keeps me accountable when I start to slip. "Am I all I ought to be?" helps me to set goals for the future.

Now please don't get me wrong - I'm not actually saying that we all need to start celebrating Kwanzaa this year (although my husband has been pushing for it for several years now). What I am saying is that these are some excellent principals to live by, as they apply to living a sustainable lifestyle: let's be happy with our lives and what we've been blessed with, help the people and businesses in our community, stand up for what we believe in, and give back to the earth instead of always taking from it. How could that be wrong?


The Raven said...

My then-9yo son read a book about Kwanzaa last year and was so blown away by how thoughtful a holiday it could be that he started crying in the bookstore and insisted we start celebrating immediately. So we've combined much of Kwanzaa with our Hanukkah traditions. I am so glad you posted this!

Green Bean said...

What a beautiful holiday!

And Raven, your 9 year old started crying over this and demanded to celebrate it!?! Who is doing a fantastic job raising a kid in this society!

Farmer's Daughter said...

Interesting post. And kudos for exposing your children to this holiday.

We celebrate Christmas, mostly because our families celebrate it and we love the secular traditions. We carry on German, English, and in my husband's family, Italian traditions to celebrate our roots. While I consider myself to be without religion, I don't see a whole lot of religion being celebrated in Christmas anyway. For us, it's about family, loving and giving.

Daisy said...

Thank you for the summary! I spent some time looking for kwanzaa books to bring to my classroom. It's such a beautiful holiday. My WASP-y students need to expand their horizons beyond Santa.


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