Category Archives: Kwanzaa

Umoja–reflecting on unity on the first day of Kwanzaa

Happy Kwanzaa, to all who celebrate it as it begins today.   If you don’t know much about this African American celebration, take some time to rad and meditate on the Nguzo Saba (seven guiding principles). And Merry (second day of) Christmas. Happy 5th day of Hanukkah (6th day begins at sundown tonight, right?).

I’ve turned the cable back on for the holidays, which has my kids (20 and 17) very happy.  Pete and I are big Dexter fans, and we can watch the entire third season now via Showtime on Demand, before he leaves Monday for a winter-break trip to China.  Three episodes down and a bunch more to go before he leaves, but we can do it.  My daughter loves Weeds, and we are working through the fourth season at a more leisurely pace.  This on-demand stuff is great–I can watch and/or record these few shows I really enjoy then turn the cable back off.  And because I’ve had the cable off for almost a year, Comcast had all sorts of incentives for me, including free Showtime for six months, so it’s not costing much.

I’m hoping I don’t regress back into excessive channel-surfing mode, which is why I turned the cable off in the first place.  If I do, I’m bound to come across some crabby white political commentator making some nasty remark dismissing Kwanzaa as a “made up” or “invented” holiday, asserting or implying that Kwanzaa is part of a supposed war on Christmas. Ugh.  Kwanzaa, f course, is not anti-Christmas nor meant as an alternative to Christmas; it starts the day after Christmas, so the religious celebration can flow into the cultural celebration.

What’s wrong with inventing  a holiday, anyway?  Kwanzaa got started back in the mid-1960s by Maulana Karenga, and if ever a people deserved to create a holiday to reclaim and celebrate their heritage and identity, it was African Americans in the 1960s.  That it ticks off some white people?  All the better.  Most of us need it, because most of us have no idea of what the black experience has been in the United States over the last 100 years.

As far as Christmas goes, I’ve loved the parties and smaller gatherings where I’ve spent time with friends and family, because it’s about love and fellowship.  The church services have been beautiful, too, and I’ve enjoyed playing in them.

What I could really do without is all the standard Christmas music, sacred and secular, because 50 years of it has left me feeling overdosed.  It would be fantastic to not hear any of it for about five years and then welcome it back.  It would be like going off a diet.  (I’ve totally given up low-carb eating for the holidays, and it’s been fantastically enjoyable;  it will probably be really hard to go back to healthy eating, giving up the sugar and refined flour, but, wow, how I’ve reveled in having totally given in to temptation.)

And all the commercialism makes me sick, at least on one level.  There’s this crazy sense that if I don’t get enough presents, spend enough money, etc., etc., my loved ones won’t know I love them.  Or be hurt and disappointed.  (OK, call that the co-dependent Christmas syndrome.)

On the other hand, I’m acutely aware that the economy, especially in times of recession and near-depression, needs to have money circulating in it.  If we don’t buy stuff, then the people who make and distribute and sell stuff don’t make any money, lose their, jobs, etc., etc.

Layoffs happen everywhere.  In academia, jobs are being cut, just as everywhere else.  Where I teach, tenure-track jobs are secure, but not part-time and what are called “term” (temporary) full-time faculty positions.  The worst part of the holiday season has been learning about people I know who are learning that their positions (here or elsewhere) will be eliminated after this year.

On each day of Kwanza, one of the seven principles is the focus. Today’s is Umoja–unity.  “To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.”  I know Kwanzaa is meant as a specifically African-American celebration, but there is a lot to learn from it whether or not one is African American. What’s my sense of unity?  Unity with my friends, my family, my church, the university where I teach, my colleagues, my profession?

What I’m acutely aware of today is that the stronger the sense of unity I allow myself to feel, the more it hurts to see losses and suffering and fear.  And at the same time, even when there’s pain, it’s good, so good, to allow myself to feel connected to others.  That’s life, that’s reality.

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