Kwanzaa Respect

30 Dec

Letterbalm KwanzaaDear LetterBalm: My niece is in fourth grade and very absorbed in her African-American heritage. She knows about Kwanzaa because her parents have told her about the celebration, and the family observes its rituals at home. She wants to know why Christmas and Chanukah decorations are prominently displayed everywhere, but Kwanzaa not so much. What can I tell her to encourage her interest, yet make her understand the importance of being inclusive and respecting all traditions?

–Culturally-Sensitive Aunt

Joyous Kwanzaa to you. Ms. L.B. applauds your wish to educate your niece to be inclusive and respectful. Kwanzaa is a relatively recent holiday created in 1966 in America, usually running from December 26 to January 1. Each day focuses on one of seven core values, with a candle lit on each day. On December 31, there’s a feast and on January 1, educational and artistic gifts are exchanged. Your niece needs to understand that Kwanzaa is a cultural, rather than a religious celebration and can be observed in tandem with Christmas or Chanukah or alone. Americans today differ on the use of “Happy Holiday” and “Merry Christmas” – there’s a lot of turmoil in trying to be culturally and religiously correct. You can tell you niece that America is a diverse country and the cornerstone of ritual is what is taught and celebrated in the home:

Jaliyah, I’m so proud that you want to know more about your African-American culture, and I understand that you’re disappointed when Kwanzaa isn’t as talked about as much as Christmas and Chanukah are. Well, those celebrations have a much longer history because Kwanzaa was started in America only 47 years ago. So, it’s still getting started. The other thing is, Kwanzaa is meant to be celebrated in the home with family and friends. It’s not a church or synagogue ceremony, and many African-Americans choose to observe both – Christmas and Kwanzaa if they’re Christian and Chanukah and Kwanzaa if they’re Jewish. (And, sometimes Jewish people have a Christmas tree and other things, too.) It can get pretty confusing because America is a country of many traditions and faiths. Everybody has to be respectful as we go through life all together as a country. The most important thing is that we celebrate Kwanzaa together as a family.

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