Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas is a "made up holiday" too

Let me get this straight right off the bat: I have never in my life celebrated Kwanzaa. Ever. So the rant to come is not because I feel some long-cherished family holiday is being maligned. I think the principles behind Kwanzaa are good ones. I respect them. I admire people who do embrace the holiday. One day I might, too. But I haven't yet.

That said--the arrogant dismissal of the holiday by some really gets my goat.

Here is how Slate prefaced an article about Kwanzaa by writer Melonyce McAfee:
Kwanzaa, the celebration honoring African heritage, begins the day after Christmas and lasts through Jan. 1. In 2005, Melonyce McAfee explained that even though it's a made-up holiday, it helped her family. The original article is reprinted below. (Emphasis mine) Read more...

Granted, McAfee uses similar words in her piece that describes her family's brief attempt at embracing the holiday. She notes that Dr. Maulana Karenga "conjured up" the holiday in 1966--conjured. She references Jonathan Safran Foer's comedic op-ed in the New York Times where he states "No one is quite sure what Kwanzaa is." I've found that a lot of people, even black folks, view Kwanzaa as an illegitimate celebration made up by some angry, black activist--not a real God-given holiday like...oh... say Christmas (or Valentine's Day or St. Patrick's Day or Mother's Day or Father'sDay or Columbus Day or Halloween or Thanksgiving). As McAfee puts it, the naysayers "mock Kwanzaa as a pseudo holiday, created to annoy white people and kept alive to peddle cards and kente cloth."

Not like Christmas at all.

Christmas celebrates a real event--the birth of Jesus Christ. (Wait. But no one really knows what day Jesus was born. And astronomers recently discovered, based on the position of the "Christmas star" it may have been in June. December 25 may have been chosen to correspond to a Roman holiday or Winter Solstice.) Christmas rituals have real meaning, in honor of our Lord and Savior. (Meaning. Yes. In honor of our Lord and Savior...not so much. From Wikipedia: ...many of the symbols western societies have come to associate with Christmas were taken from non-Christian pagan traditions that pre-date the birth of Jesus. Specifically, symbols such as decorated trees, mistletoe, holly wreaths and yule logs all have non-Christian origins. From a historical context, "Christmas" only recently adopted these long-standing winter traditions into its own identity.) Christmas is all about religious worship, no "peddling" of consumer goods allowed. (Riiight.)

Understand, I am not maligning Christmas. (And don't get me started on Thanksgiving.) My point is that all holidays are, in some sense, "made up." We take an important event (The birth of a religious icon or great persons like MLK, Jr. or Abraham Lincoln) or an important principle (love for one's parents, appreciation for veterans or blue-collar workers) and we commemorate them on a chosen day with joyous or solemn rituals pulled from many origins. And these celebrations are important in our lives. The winter holiday season generally gives loved ones time together, whether they are celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice or Diwali or any of the other myriad holidays that occur in the waning days of the year. What could be wrong with that?

I'm just saying, save the snark about Kwanzaa. It isn't perfect. Like Debra Dickerson, I wish the celebration included more acknowledgment of the African-American experience. But no holiday gets everything right, because holidays are human constructions. And Kwanzaa is no more "made up" than other days we hold dear.


MacDaddy said...

Great post. It can't be said any better.

Anonymous said...

Yes, everything is "made up." And things become more "made up" as time goes by!

You can choose a wide variety of things that were created as holidays worldwide, and even religions come and go through the ages.

Erica said...

Thank you for pointing this out. Dismissal can be either subtle ("made-up holiday") or vicious ("to annoy white people" -- as a Jew, I've heard similar things about Chanukah -- that it was a recent invention due to jealousy over getting presents in December). Either way, it's ridiculous and mean-spirited.

Holidays are ALL invention and symbolism, a way for people to commemorate and celebrate meaningful events. I wish more people could realize this.

Vel ART said...

Brilliant post! (dank u wel. Dutch) · Thank you very much!


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