Faithful to the Spirit of the Season

All I want for Christmas is Kwanzaa. I fell out of love with the commercial offerings of Christmas when I was 10 years old. The year was 1982 and I was old enough to process and conclude that the pressure of presents under the tree was a nasty damper on the holiday season. For weeks my momma and other women in the complex anguished over where they could pull money from to get Christmas presents. I don’t think I ever had a chance to believe in Santa Claus. I always heard the ‘woe is me’ conversations from around corners. I heard my momma’s prayers night after night begging God to make a way for her to get a few hundred dollars before Christmas Eve. I wasn’t nosy. This time of year it was just hard to keep out of grown folk’s business ’cause folks were mad stressed, depressed and there was never enough store-bought holiday cheer to hide it. The entire holiday season, each and every year, my mother was sad. It was seasonal affective disorder all right. She must have felt like the worst momma on earth. Bless her heart. She would go through the routine of asking the six of us what we wanted and we answered her with glee, naming everything that caught our eyes during Saturday morning cartoons. We played the game fully aware we’d be disappointed Christmas morning. Even as a toddler I knew damn well a fat white man in a red suit was not landing his sleigh in the projects to give me anything. In 1982 I decided I would stop setting myself up for this unnecessary letdown. My focus became the gift of being together and our southern soul food Christmas Day meal. (We always saved enough food stamps for the end of December.) I love my momma to the bone, but for the life of me I can’t understand how someone so smart and so spiritual could get caught up in this. She busted her behind to make Santa’s offerings under our tree look abundant. Each year she would wrap up a lot of cheap, come-apart-in-one-day toys from the dollar store. We followed the culture we knew like cattle. The six of us ripped through the wrapping paper with grateful smiles and laughter, but we were never happy. Despite best intentions, the spirit of the season was not strong in our lives because the anxiety of Santa’s presents or lack of presents, my momma’s depression and her Christmas morning shame killed it. Looking back, the energy and love my momma put into the Christmas meal, the warmth that brought us together around the table and holiday service at church together_ those moments held the spirit of the season. But we couldn’t see that at the time for the pathetic plastic tree in our way. Not me. Not until 1982. My momma never told me about Kwanzaa and when I learned about it as an adult, I was angry. We’d been cheated out of years of a seven-day festival of self-love, ancestral reverence and community celebration. Instead, this little black girl spent December after December dreaming of plastic pink dolls waiting for her under the tree. She knew about Kwanzaa, but my pro-Black, afro-queen mother didn’t have the nerve to veer from a tradition that conflicted with her soul’s beliefs, or at least to add this African-American celebration to renew our spirits. (I shouldn’t be so hard on my momma. She has given me many beautiful things.) I have friends and family that are slaves to this buying season. I hate to see my sister-friends down and out because they can’t go spend too much money on a bunch of stuff. This stress can trump the spirit of the season and the commercial gift-giving is one tradition we can do without. I challenge them to spend their money on a book that shares the story of Kwanzaa. I challenge them to give gifts that are made from their own loving hands and blessed with the essential oils of ancient black hearts. Kwanzaa teaches us that we have deeper, much more critical gifts to give our loved ones. As we scurry around this holiday season to buy the latest video game or hottest kicks to put under the tree, or stress because we can’t afford to fill out that gloomy space lurking under the tree, may the Higher Power remind us to give something useful to our kids, our family and our community. Give unity, self-determination, purpose, cooperative economics, collective work and responsibility, creativity, and most especially, faith.