Honoring Holiday Traditions

What Christmas album do you have playing this week?

The Temptations? Motown Christmas? Mariah Carey?

Holiday traditions run deep. Black folks have such varied and complex holiday traditions.  I grew up celebrating Christmas, although we weren’t christian, and I remember it well. I would get giddy at the thought of sitting under the tree with a cup of hot chocolate. All cozy in my footie pajamas after having spent the last few hours outside building snowmen and making snow angels. The house smelled like cinnamon, cloves and chocolate. My mother baked her family’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and my father baked his family’s sweet potato pie and chocolate pie. The presents filled up under the tree. I suppose I didn’t believe in Santa at a very young age. But Christmas, for my family, wasn’t about Santa or Jesus.

Christmas for my family meant working hard in the winter so we could play in the summer.

My mother was a newspaper distribution manager. We spent many days in the winter delivering papers. We woke up at one o’clock in the morning and didn’t get done until well after 5am. We looked forward to coming home to get cozy in my parents bed. Me putting my cold little toes on my mother's leg for warmth.

My father worked every. single. Christmas. in the steel mill because of the overtime and holiday pay. So we opened our presents on Christmas Eve when he was home for a short 8 hours. All winter he worked back to back doubles. Sometimes I’d only know my father had been home by the candy bar I found on my dresser when I woke up.

Every family has their own holiday traditions. But what makes them just as special to us all is the nostalgia. How then are new traditions created? How can we be purposeful in creating new holiday traditions that serve our liberatory praxis?

I ask this question in the context of Kwanzaa. Created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga to give African Americans and the African diaspora a link to our cultural roots. Kwanzaa, for me, has become a time of new traditions, of celebrations with our city’s elders, of African dancing and drumming, of supporting Black businesses, of uplifting and honoring our children, of vegan and vegetarian food in abundance, a time of grand greetings, and joyful goodbyes.

I am often asked how to celebrate Kwanzaa. “What do I do?” “How it is done?”  Well, it’s not really all that different from your regular holiday tradition recipe. Family, food, and fun. You can’t just wake up one day and be a Kwanzaa expert. You have to take it one step at a time. My main advice will always be to gather with community. Attend the Kwanzaa celebrations in your city. If there isn’t a celebration in your city, try the next town over or create one for your loved ones. When you attend a Kwanzaa celebration you will learn new things that you can take home with you.

As for my family, my daughter and I will drink our vegan hot chocolate under our Kwanzaa alter after coming in from playing outside in the snow. The house will still smell like cookies and pie. We’ll make any gifts that are given or support a Black artisan. And like I did with my mother, my daughter will be my assistant as we work during the holidays so we can play during the summer.

Remember Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious one. So you can keep your religious holidays in place and then extend your celebrations through Kwanzaa. Below you will find a list of Kwanzaa events that I could find.  The list starts with my stomping ground of Milwaukee and then is alphabetical by city.

To look for a Kwanzaa event in your city do a quick google search or search facebook for “Kwanzaa”. You can also ask around!

If you know of a Kwanzaa event outside of Milwaukee please post it in the comments for all to see.

Milwaukee, WI:

Dec 26th (6:00pm) 

Traditional Kwanzaa Opening Ceremony

Wisconsin Black Historical Society

2620 W. Center Street, Milwaukee, WI

Dec 27th (6:00pm)
Africans on the Move
Wisconsin African American Women's Center
3020 W. Vliet Street, Milwaukee, WI

Dec 28th (6:00pm - 9:00pm)
Partying with Elders! We are asking Generation X's and Millennials to bring out the Baby Boomers (your parents and Grandparents) and party to the sounds of the 60's, 70's and 80's
Wisconsin African American Women's Center
3020 W. Vliet Street, Milwaukee, WI

Dec 29th (4:00pm - 8:00pm)
Kwanzaa Family Festival
Milwaukee Collegiate Academy
4030 N. 29th Street, Milwaukee, WI

Dec 31st (8:00pm - 2:00am)
New Year's Eve Zumbathon!
Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc.
$10 Adults, $5 Children
Wisconsin African American Women's Center
3020 W. Vliet Street, Milwaukee, WI

Jan 1st (12:00pm - 5:00pm) Program 1:00pm
Traditional Closing Kwanzaa Ceremonies
Wisconsin African American Women's Center
3020 W. Vliet Street, Milwaukee, WI

Baltimore, MD

Charlotte, NC



Dec 26th

Dec 30th

Dec 30th

Dec 30th

Dec 31st

Cincinnati, OH

Detroit, MI

Indianapolis, IN

Kansas City, MO

Louisville, KY

Madison, WI

New York:

Dec 26th - Dec 28th

Dec 30th

Dec 30th

Newark, NJ

Saint Louis, MO

Saint Paul, MN

Washington, DC

Cami ThomasComment