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Monday, December 26, 2005

Happy Chrismahanukwanzakah - really!

Here's a story I've long wanted to read: a profile of a real family who blends the season's various holidays together for the simple reason that it reflects who they are. Meet the Balsoms, who celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa — this year, all at once:

"Welcome to Chrismahanukwanzakah," said David Balsom, whose blended family has celebrated Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa since he and his wife, Tasha, adopted their two children, both black, who are now teenagers. . . .

David, 52, producer of a classical music radio program, "From the Top," was raised as a Reform Jew. Tasha, 51, who runs a family day care, grew up as a Unitarian. Even though neither was particularly religious, they decided early in their relationship that they wanted to celebrate both of their heritages. When they adopted Leo and Mia, now 14 and 17, they added Kwanzaa to the mix.

"We're a very diverse family and it's important to us that we celebrate all the different elements that make us a family," David said. "In our transracial family, we felt an obligation to be as expansive in what we exposed our family to as we could be."

Their approach is high on levity and rather short on orthodoxy:

To the Balsoms, the holidays are more about culture than religion. To make their Christmas tree a more secular symbol, for example, a monkey sits at the top instead of a star.

Which is to say that Unitarianism is the closest thing to religion they're comfortable with:

Despite their mixed upbringing, the children identify mostly with Unitarianism, they said, attending a local church regularly and a special Christmas Eve candlelighting service in Cambridge. The story of Hanukkah? "All I know is the lights stayed lit for eight nights and it was ca-razy," joked Mia, who will attend Trinity College in Connecticut next fall.

Celebrating two holidays, they said, is ho-ho-hum. But marking Kwanzaa, they said, sets them apart. "I don't know anyone else who celebrates Kwanzaa," Leo said.

"I bring it up as a punchline," said Mia. "I tell my friends, 'Happy Kwanzaa,' as a joke."

Somehow the story leaves me feeling that holiday syncretism has limited appeal. Funny people, though:

By the end of December, the family may be drained, physically and financially, but the living room will be awash in candlelight.

"I figure by New Year's Day, we'll have 15 candles going," said David. "We'll celebrate Hanukkah, and the solstice, and then Christmas and Kwanzaa. We'll just light stuff continually . . ."

"And then there'll be an intense explosion," interrupted Tasha, with a laugh.

("So Much To Celebrate," Andrea Estes, Boston Globe 12.26.05, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 26 December 2005 at 9:05 AM

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December 26, 2005 10:29 AM | Permalink for this comment

See also "The festival of loot" for a memoir about a Jewish family's not so very Jewish Hanukkah. (Andy Borowitz, New York Times 12.25.05, reg req'd)


December 26, 2005 02:32 PM | Permalink for this comment

Another Kwanzaa story:

It was Mom's idea, like the world-beat reggae concerts, Earth Day fairs, and Marcus Garvey coloring books. Kwanzaa was a way to bring our ragtag family together and nudge us away from the false idols and commercial trickery of the holiday season. We only celebrated Kwanzaa for a couple of years. That might sound like a fist-in-the-air dalliance into neo-black-holiday land. But the dismissal wouldn't be fair. Kwanzaa may be made-up, but for my family it was useful.

("Bring out the Kwanzaa kinara," Melonyce McAfee, Slate 12.26.05)


December 27, 2005 05:13 AM | Permalink for this comment

Is mere syncretism the future of UUism? Or should we try something new, rooted in our past but being aware of the present and looking at a future that will be global? That's the big dilemma for our faith today, IMO.


December 27, 2005 05:27 AM | Permalink for this comment

Beliefnet publishes an interesting interview with the inventor of Kwanzaa. He insists that the holiday should remain cultural and not become religious...


December 28, 2005 04:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Most of my African-American friends are serious Christians who have a strong dislike of Kwanzaa. The fact that Kwanzaa has been endorsed by President Bush and major greeting card companies doesn't help. On the other hand, many AME churches have embraced Kwanzaa. So I tend to feel uncomfortable having an opinion about Kwanzaa one way or the other. Our church ignores it, except in RE where it gets tacked on to the long list of "holidays we don't believe in but celebrate anyway."

Is there a UU consensus on Kwanzaa?

h sofia:

December 28, 2005 09:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

My parents (not Christian) used to make mocking comments about Kwanzaa years ago before they really knew anything about it. They just thought of it as a "made up" tradition. Of course, all traditions are made up. But years passed and now, with our family being of different religious beliefs, Kwanzaa makes a lot of sense.

As I told one friend, "Taking on Christmas is really hard as it doesn't feel like part of my culture and I'm not Christian. I don't want to celebrate 'Eid-al-Fitr because I'm not Muslim anymore. So I figured I'd celebrate Kwanzaa because no matter what happens, I'll always be black!"

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