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Why Kwanzaa may be more important than Christmas

Posted by Canaan Community Church on January 1, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Why Kwanzaa may be more important than Christmas!

Now I know as a Christian pastor this may seem like a rather strange statement and there will even be those crazy enough to call it heresy.  The only response I have to those who may feel that way is… that is great! Why? Because that means I have your attention.

Let me begin by saying that I am a lover of everything Christmas.  I love the music, lights, food,family atmosphere, and the way people seem to be just a little nicer to each other most of the time.  (Excluding when they are shopping, of course.)  I am most of all excited about celebrating the birth of Christ and the Christian belief that God himself put on human flesh and moved into the neighborhood!  John 1:14 MSG

However for the last few years I have had the opportunity to do less shopping, wrapping and holiday decorating and have spent more time serving, helping and building relationships in my community during this time of year. It is during the holidays when many of the defensive walls my tougher to get to know neighbors put up all year may come down just for a few weeks.  I mean, this is the season to be jolly, right? The principles of Christmas like joy, peace, kindness, family, and giving are usually on full display and well received by almost everyone during this time of year.  While this is true, unfortunately, these principles are still extremely individualized so we think about giving individually but rarely consider the communal effects.  This is why we flock to purchase gifts for less fortunate individuals, or make meals for the homeless but rarely consider the factors that have led to these needs.  We are focused on Christmas as a seasonal fix, which is why most churches ramp up their outreach during this time of year, Canaan included.  Don’t get me wrong none of these things are necessarily bad, that is not my premise at all.  I am glad that the church is able to be a temporary solution during the holidays. But are we truly concerned about eradicating the issues in which we call ourselves being a temporary solution? Or would we rather remain a temporary fix so we can feel useful once a year?

I am especially worried about the image that seasonal giving portrays in communities of color where the Christmas holiday is just a magnified example of everyday realities. When you look at the average minority family during the Christmas holiday, you begin to understand that this time of year, which should bring joy and peace, typically brings frustration and disappointment.   Parents are overly worried about providing for their children and I don’t just mean gifts under the tree. Students are home from school for two weeks while most parents still have to work.  Not only do they have to figure out childcare but the heat and lights are running, extra meals must be provided, warmer clothing is necessary, family may be coming over for the holidays and on top of that gifts are still an expectation even when kids know parents are struggling.(At least that’s how it was in my house.) 

This year I made the decision that I would take seriously, for the first time, the Kwanzaa holiday and carefully read, understand and embrace the principles of the Nguzo Saba. I have of course taught on Kwanzaa as an elementary school teacher and even been a part of a school that used the Nguzo Saba as its guiding principles for culture and climate.   But just like many others, I felt like it was really just an add-on to Christmas that was not all that important to my family. Simply put I was wrong and this year, Kwanzaa has had a bigger effect on me than Christmas.  Everyday since Christmas I have read one of the principles, lit a candle on the Kinara and prayed that God would help me to see how the principle coincided with my Christian call.  What I have realized more than ever this year is that the guiding principles of both Christmas and Kwanzaa MUST become our guiding principles everyday.  Christians must learn to take our eyes and hearts of our individualistic desires long enough to see our negligence towardsthe communal aspects of our faith. Kwanzaa reminded me that if our church helps families have a Merry Christmas and does little in ensuring those same families won’t need us next year to do the same thing, then we have missed the mark. I am not naïve, I know next Christmas and every Christmas after that there will be a need to purchase gifts for children of incarcerated men and women from our community.  However, Kwanzaa reminds us that all year long we should be a part of the fight to keep our men and women out of this predatory system in the first place.  Next year, we will again sing Christmas Carols for our neighbors with the Chicago Children’s Choir.  However, Kwanzaa reinforces that we should also sing songs to celebrate our history and the life of great leaders such as the late Nelson Mandela which we will do this coming February.  Christmas reminds us of all that is good about God and humanity.  Kwanzaa reminds us that it takes work to see that good perpetuated on a consistent basis.

As a Christian community developer, I feel like I have immersed myself in the best of both worlds this year.  I have celebrated the abiding principles of Christmas and also been enlightened and challenged by the collective spirit of Kwanzaa.   When I think of the year round struggles faced in our community I can’t help but be inspired by the principles of both Christmas and Kwanzaa and challenged to truly incorporate them into my everyday life.  

So, whether it is because it is my first year allowing the principles of the Nguzo Saba to permeate my thoughts, if it is the newness of the celebration in my home, or just the fact that I have been called by God to serve under resourced communities. For the first time I can truly say that both Kwanzaa and Christmas were a necessary part of my growth this holiday season.  However, Kwanzaa just might have been more important for me this year.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa are as follows:

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

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

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. 

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

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

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. 

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

God Bless,

Pastah J

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