I killed Christmas over a decade ago. I wrote a piece called Xmas. It detailed my knowing surrounding the holiday practically invented by Coca Cola. I talked about old west Christmases where they got drunk and shot up the town like they did on the 4th of July. I talked about how gross consumerism topped any religious element of the holiday as I questioned the validity of the religious overtones of the day. Had the piece been more recent it would have noted how North American Holidays have become more packaged over the course of my life until Valentine’s Day and Halloween are no longer for children alone and are huge money generators in a consumer driven economy. The reasons for the murdering of Xmas are clearly still present. As the economy threatens to cave in on itself on the way to America becoming a third world country it seems a sharp lesson in learned behavior and being complicit in ones own duping. Yet there is an evergreen tree in my living room. It smells of pine and peppermint and reminds me of my beloved grandmother. Who taught me many things while nurturing in me the gift of being able to create what I need.
I never published the article. I have thought about it the last few years as I have observed my love/hate relationship with holidays. In short it would seem unlikely I would indulge in rituals that commemorate events I am at odd with or disbelieve. Maybe not as strange as it seems in a country where teachers teach things they do not believe, as preachers preach things they do not accept, while the law fails us all. This dressing of the tree and buying of gifts has been a spot for me to examine the alignment of walk and talk. It has taken some time but I think I have a grasp on the very complicated relationship I have forged with American holidays.
Don’t be confused by the tree. I don’t celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July, or Easter. I do believe in the New Year. I like how it involves reflection, resolutions and comes with a clean slate like the turning of a page. My birthday is January 4th so the Year for me personally really begins then. This is all very personal. But I don’t think I am alone in the generality of repurposing American Holidays by North American Africans.
Its true ignorance can be blissful. As a child I did what the older people around me instructed me to do. I practiced the rituals I was taught. My first acting experience was in a Christmas pageant at my Grandmothers church. I learned a beautiful story. I love stories. My love for them has grown over the years as has my scholarship. I have found many beautiful stories. Some much older than others. Some that have shaped what I have come to believe. All people have tales of origin, these founding myths guide cultures as they evolve. They hold cultures through interruption, oppression, and evolution. I am a North American African. I am from a culture interrupted, transplanted, and evolving. I am of a new tribe. My tribe must have its founding myths.
Over the years I have evaded questions on religion and personal beliefs when interviewed . Perhaps because I was making them up as I went, learning, relearning and unlearning as I practiced, rejecting even as I learned, and creating where the path was bare. With age hopefully comes wisdom or at the very least knowledge of self. I have come to understand some things about my patchwork myth system that influence my personal beliefs and the rituals that convey these beliefs.
I am from a land of many Gods. I believe in wind and ocean. How can I not. They are sacred to me. The ocean was the road the wind drove the ship. I believe in a most high. Someone strung the stars and watches over me. Oludumare. I am a stranger in a strange land hiding in their midst like Ifa concealed in Catholic Saints. Santeria. I have been instructed to remember. I am the child that does not forget. I dream of doors of no return. Ancestors have always talked to me since before I understood who they were. My locked hair signals I remember. I am of a child of a different drum.
As such the 4th of July holds little significance for me. Albeit instructive of what one should do in cases where the government becomes too oppressive to bear. It like the wars waging around the world remind me of where I sit and with whom I break bread. I am an American by default. Still un-naturalized after an act of aggression that left my ancestors captive. My celebration of the 4th of July would seem moronic, as would my celebration of Thanksgiving. I identify with the indigenous. It used to drive my mother crazy, it was impossible for me to watch Tarzan, or Cowboys and Indians both wildly popular in my childhood. The movies left me in angry tears and my mother frustrated with my inability to accept that I would never see an American movie in which the Indians or the Africans won. The standard question at my “Blessings are Due” table is, “Why don’t the indigenous celebrate Thanksgiving?” It is a teaching point from which we embark on expressions of gratitude for surviving another year as a family unit within the belly of the beast. Indeed any day off from the system that allows us to gather and celebrate the miracle of being, we take advantage of, not because of the reason American society ascribes to it, but rather in the way slaves danced on Sundays in Congo Square in New Orleans. They are days we can congregate without raising suspicion. They are days we re-purpose to express gratitude in being; Being alive, being together, being yet unbroken, being able to carry on as we struggle in the belly.
For years while Americans were celebrating the 4th of July we ate bar-b-que in honor of my eldest son born on July 7th, his birthday was/is our biggest bar-b-que of the year. Easter is strange we don’t know what to do with the chicken/rabbit thing so we dye eggs with little kids like craft fun, and discuss the oddness of a rabbit supposedly bringing chicken fruit and how we are what we eat mentally as well as physically. Again the art of story and myth are at work here. We re-purpose it to fit how we live. We tell trickster tales where small animals outwit larger stronger ones and remain the master’s of their own destinies. We also use it to discuss the function of organized religion in America and the relationship between Christianity, colonization, oppression and people of color.
Christmas is perhaps the most egregious example of how myths under gird a people’s view of themselves. The inferred religious aspects of the holiday are pushed aside by the story of free toys made by magical elves in a workshop at the North Pole, a Santa who rewards the good, of flying reindeer and the need to spend, buy, own , posses, attain, display, and consume. It falls on Thanksgiving like a shot from a starter pistol signaling a last push to increase the yearly revenue of those who manufacture and gift wrap the American Dream for the consumption of a sheep like populace.
I swear I am not plugged into the matrix. Yet my detachment may not appear as clear as I understand or articulate. I have re-purposed Christmas. In learning about the American origins of Christmas I discovered the symbolic meanings attached to the use of the evergreen tree. I learned it was originally used by Abolitionist as symbol of steadfast disapproval of the institution of slavery. Presents to the poor and needy like socks and practical items were distributed among the needy at Yuletide perhaps born out of the custom of giving slaves items of necessity annually or semi annually. If you can imagine being confined to having your needs met only on holidays you can begin to understand that the poor have to eat 365 days a year not just on Thanksgiving and Christmas where giving to those who are less fortunate helps to make the fortunate feel safe in their ability to continue to consume mindlessly for another year until its time to feed the poor again.
I grew up in a culture that gave gifts of things you needed over the schedule of a set of holidays. You got summer sandals for the 4th of July along with a fresh summer outfit. You got winter clothes in September for the beginning of school. A new coat and winter shoes for Christmas. Dress clothes were renewed on Easter. When I killed Xmas I also murdered that system of addressing need in my family.
You get a coat when you need a coat, you get new shoes whenever, toys have long ago become tools for learning and creating and they come when you need them. We consciously resist being instructed when to spend or consume. We guard our heads and what we pass on to our young. We demystify, re-purpose, and embrace our right to create what we need. It saddens me to see folks bash Kwanzaa and tar it along with Karenga. I think it should be embraced for its ritual clarity and redirection to what we need to pay attention to on a daily basis. I use the principles to instruct me and my youth on what is specifically meant when we speak generally of building. Those principles create a nice container for the evolution of a culture that has roots and acknowledges the need for an evolving set of rituals and myths that hold us as we build. It may not be a perfect end piece but it functions just fine as a bridge. So I teach the principals and approach them as a theme for the time between America’s celebration of Christmas and the New Year.
This time is a cul-du-sac for me. This time of year represents my own personal high holy days it is a time where the end meets the beginning, symbolic of the closing of a circle, the complex miracle of final chords and an intro appearing in the same space. As the anniversary of my birth approaches, and the last moon of this year shines on what was, I am centered in self in a way that I am not for the rest of the year. I am in balance. I am in the house and the lights are on. I am taking inventory, giving praise, affirming, discarding, and resolving. I can see myself. I sit with me and open myself to those I love and the humanity I seek to embrace. The call of Ancestors is strong in this period. My memory is strong here. I can feel my grandmothers hands, hear her voice, in the scent of pine. I feel the year falling from me and see the New Year forming like a solid object I can touch. I am clear. I feel powerful and ever so grateful for being. The blessing of air in lungs is a miracle. The gift of sight and hearing are celebrated as is my great joy in being able to be wounded, healed, in being able to feel. I am, and there-in lies a miracle, and I am grateful. I celebrate being in the Cul-du-Sac again. Being a victor having survived another year in the belly. I celebrate being taller. I celebrate moving towards elder hood. I celebrate my ability to celebrate. I dance in the storm and sing loudly for the blessing of yet being.
Happy Cul-du-Sac from a North ‘Merican Afrikan evolving in the belly.
I wish you clarity, joy, and purpose.
Note from: 12.29.2015. This year no tree. I have learned to look for my grandmother in myself and her descendants. One of the twins remarked that, “Mom weaned us off the madness, she helped us let go of the sickness. ” No Xmas.
Continued wishes for clarity, joy and purpose.
Nzinga & Family