December 26, 2008

One cultural festival, hold the beer

It’s that time of year, when my black friends start celebrating Kwanzaa, and my white friends start complaining about it.

I can't for the life of me imagine why anyone gets righteously indignant about Kwanzaa, but some do.

Their chief complaint is usually that it's a "made-up holiday."

Except it's not a "holiday," i.e. "holy day," as such. It's a cultural festival intended to unify the descendants of slaves and remind them of their common African heritage.

Perhaps I have a different perspective because I grew up in California in the post-Kwanzaa era. It stood on the cultural calendar with Chinese New Year, Scottish Highland Games, and Oktoberfest. Those who didn’t participate in these events didn’t give them much thought.

Of these, Kwanzaa is the least boisterous and the most serious. It's observed chiefly within the home and is far less cheapened and merchandised than two true high holy days, the Resurrection and Christmas.

It seems everyone is willing to be Irish for St. Patrick's Day and Mexican for Cinco de Mayo, but no one wants to be African-American for Kwanzaa. Maybe that’s just because there are no happy hour specials involved, but I think not.

People to whom Kwanzaa seems a recent intruder to the calendar do not seem to realize that most cultural festivals and holidays had to be "made up" at some point.

Even one of the most sacred days in the Christian calendar, Christmas, is a ritual celebration "made up" by the early church to counter the Roman festival of Saturnalia.

That this holy day was "made up" more than sixteen hundred years ago does give it more historical gravitas, but it is no less a human invention. God gave instructions about Passover, but there are no such instructions about the observation of Christmas in the Bible.

Secular holidays are made up, too. Thanksgiving, for example, was not celebrated annually until its addition to the official calendar of U.S. holidays in the 19th century.

I could go on: Labor Day…President's Day…Columbus Day…Does anyone really take time on those days to think about laborers, presidents, or Cristobal Colon? Heck no. They just get annoyed because the Post Office is closed.

Was Kwanzaa "made up?" Why, yes, it was. It was "made up" by one person who thought it important to unify his people.

We should all strive to be so creative that we make up something that sweeps a country and changes a culture.

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