How I Changed My Holiday Traditions to Match My Values

Throughout my childhood, my paternal grandmother always made sure the family had a “good” Christmas. For her, that meant everyone received a gift—especially the children. We would meet at a relative’s house each year on Christmas Eve and at midnight exchange gifts. Money was often tight, and sometimes the holidays brought more of a burden when having to choose between buying decorations and gifts and paying bills.

For my own daughter’s and son’s first Christmases, I wanted them to have a good Christmas, too. I went overboard in trying to make this happen by buying unnecessary things. After that, I stopped buying gifts, and although I would still visit family for that holiday, I didn’t exchange gifts.

But these days, I’m starting my own traditions, which include observing the African American cultural holiday Kwanzaa. That doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate Christmas; it’s just given me a new approach to doing so.

In 1966, Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa (derived from a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits”), a weeklong celebration to introduce and reinforce seven values, called Nguzo Saba, of African culture. Karenga is a professor and chair of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach. He said he created Kwanzaa specifically for African Americans, who did not have a day that celebrated their unique history and experience in the United States. While the early years of the holiday was in resistance to racism and White supremacy and rejected Christianity—therefore Christmas outright—the holiday has evolved to embrace all people of African descent no matter their religion.

Not everyone stresses about what the holidays demand of us, but the good news is, no one has to. Here are five ways the Nguzo Saba can inspire you to participate in the holidays without feeling financially and emotionally overwhelmed. Reclaim the holidays as your own. I did.

1. Don’t buy your gifts—make them

You don’t have to give in to the holiday shopping tradition of overspending. Make meaningful gifts. Be creative, be intentional.

The principle of Kuumba (creativity) “teaches us to do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial for future generations than we inherited it.” From The Official Kwanzaa Website

2. If you must buy gifts, shop locally

Jobs and opportunities are created when dollars circulate locally. This creates healthier environments and builds community.

The principle of Ujamaa (cooperative economics) “teaches us to build and maintain our own stores and other businesses and to profit from them together.”

3. Be intentional about your gifts and charity

Look for decision-making opportunities that influence outcome. In building racial equity, these opportunities are called Choice Points. They’re a tool that is used to help us turn away from our same old choices/actions and make an equity-driven choice/action. If you’re used to giving to a charity or organization that is made up of mostly White people, instead consider organizations that benefit people of color and are run by people of color.

The principle of Ujima (collective work and responsibility) “teaches us to build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.”

4. Attend or participate in a holiday celebration outside of your community

If you’re Catholic, change it up and visit a Protestant church, particularly one with people of color. If you’re atheist or agnostic, go with your churchgoing family members. If church is not your family’s thing, go together to visit a community center or an organization that helps displaced people.

The principle of Umoja (unity) “teaches us to strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.”

5. Do something special for yourself

It’s been a hell of a year. Take this time for self-care and reflection. Read a book of fiction. Spend time with friends with whom you don’t have to talk about politics. Take a trip; doesn’t have to be long or far. Drink wine … or tea. Journal: What are your personal goals to contribute to a just and sustainable world? Or write a letter to yourself reminding you of the good of humanity in the face of the year’s catastrophic events. Dream again.

The principle of Imani (faith) “tells us to believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

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