In the latest of our series on ‘What Christmas means to me, ‘ Ani Saakana reminisces about her own Caribbean family’s attempt at a Kwanzaa celebration, an African alternative to Christmas…..
Let’s get this right, my family aren’t anti-Christmas. They’ve just never been into the smell of a freshly cut Christmas tree standing nicely in their living room, mince pies baking in the oven or pumpkin spice candles in the hallway.
We’re slightly more Bah-humbug when it comes to anything traditional around Christmas, and my family are just about as untraditional as you can get. Which is slightly strange as we’re from the Caribbean – Grenada and Trinidad – and people who are usually from an Afro-Caribbean background, are known for celebrating the smallest occasions, so you can just imagine what Christmas supposed to be like.
From as early as I can remember, when people were putting out their Christmas decorations in November, mine were getting champagne ready for New Year’s Eve.
Christmas was always celebrated at my grandparents’ house and I had a childhood full of wonderful memories of decorating trees, baking cookies and opening thousands of presents.
However, in my own home things were rather different, and when my grandparents returned to Grenada at eight years old, the little time I had celebrating Christmas was Gone with the Wind.
When I first asked my dad why we didn’t ‘go all out’ for Christmas his reply was something along the lines of “Christmas is a European celebration…and we’re not exactly European. Besides it is known Christ wasn’t born on the 25th of December…” the course of the conversation would always go down a route where I would question why I bothered asking in the first place. In the end, he asked if I must celebrate something, why didn’t I celebrate Kwanzaa?
So, one year we did…and it was honestly the most bizarre but delightful occasion I had experienced in my 10 years of living. If you’re unsure what Kwanzaa is, it’s a pan-Africanist celebration that begins on the 26th of December and ends on the 1st of January. Not everyone celebrates it, but it’s an alternative to Christmas, especially for those of African heritage.
In essence, Kwanzaa celebrates the unity of African culture and all it’s diaspora including those in the Caribbean and Americas. Over the course of seven days the celebrations brings family together, giving presents and offering of food – from native Caribbean foods like fried dumplings, to traditional West African dishes like Jellof rice.
Though, we were supposed to celebrate Kwanzaa over seven days, we just did the one – it was the first and last, it was almost like my family were rebelling against the norm.
Since becoming an adult, Christmas has become less of an occasion where I spend time feeling disappointed that my house has a lack of a Christmas tree, or minces pies. In fact, I can somewhat understand the rebellion of not wanting to celebrate it, with the pressure to buy someone the perfect present, or to have the best decorated house.
I feel slightly relieved that in terms of exaggeration my family score below average. So, as the day draws nearer, our house is undecorated but loved, our prezzies thoughtful not extravagant, and our dinner heavenly blessed and meat-free.
What Christmas means to me now, is spending time with my family, which for the first time in 5 years we’re going to be able to do. A time for me to lounge around in my pyjamas for nearly half the day, listen to my dad preach about the history of Christianity, having my mum moan at me because I won’t help in the kitchen, and having my sisters tease me for my questionable playlist selection. In my eyes it can’t get better than that and I wouldn’t change it for the world.