Christmas, Kwanzaa and Chanukkah: Holiday diversity

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(NNPA)—Habari Gani begins the greeting. It is Swahili for “what’s happening.” During Kwanzaa, the seven days between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1, the response reflects the particular day of Kwanzaa. On Dec. 26, the response is Umoja, which means Unity. On Dec. 29, the response is Ujamaa, which is cooperative economics. On the last day of Kwanzaa, Jan. 1, the response is Imani which means Faith.

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We are all indebted to Mualana Ron Karenga for his development of the Kwanzaa concept in 1969, and for the millions of people who celebrate African history and heritage. As a Christian, I worship and am mindful of the birth of the Christ Child and the fact that somehow, as a greeting, Happy Holidays has swallowed Merry Christmas.

The Happy Holidays greeting is intended to be inclusive, intended to encompass Christmas, Kwanzaa, Chanukkah, the Winter Solstice, and just about everything else. It is intended, by some, to indicate that we are sensitive to everybody’s needs, holidays and religious diversity. Still, I think we lose just a little bit of something when we decide to group everything into “the holidays.” We lose the majesty of the Christ Child’s birth, a day that most of our nation celebrates. Three in four of all Americans are self-identified Christians. Should we swallow the uniqueness of the season and the celebration, miracle, and renewal that it implies?

Our Jewish brothers and sisters also celebrate holy times in Chanukkah. This celebration of lights, of rededication, has special meaning that should not be reduced to just another holiday. Those of us who are not Jewish may not need to celebrate Channukah, but we should be aware, mindful, and commemorative. Religious diversity means knowing about and acknowledging each other’s holy moments. We lose some of that with the generic Happy Holidays.

Kwanzaa is a celebration unto itself. Karenga developed the holiday and its celebration in the late 1960s to affirm the African-American vision and values. The seven principles, Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith) are all principles that represent the foundation of community growth and development, and a celebration of family and culture. Millions have taken the principles and used them as a way to affirm strength and resilience in the African-American community. I am especially mindful of the principle of Ujamaa, cooperative economics, as it undergirds much of the work that I do. So when somebody says “habari gani” to you Dec. 29, please respond with “Ujamaa.”

Kwanzaa does not substitute or supplant Christmas. It is an entirely different reality. It is an end year celebration of family, faith and community, a celebration of life. A forty plus year tradition is a rich and rewarding way to bring us all together.

We should have enough room in our collective consciousness to allow for multiple year-end celebrations. Chrsitmas, Kwanzaa, and Chanukkah each commemorate different facets of American life. And then there is the winter solstice, the changing of the seasons, the shortest day of the year, and yet, too a celebration. Yes, we need to have enough room to celebrate all these things in their distinctness. To swallow them all up in a Happy Holidays greeting is a politically correct way of both lumping us all together and ignoring the richness of our differences and how our differences add to the ways we live and celebrate our lives.

(Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women. Her most recent book, “Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History” is available at http://www.lastwordprod.com.)

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