Confessions of a Kwanzaa Dropout


Kathryn O'Neal, a formerly enthusiastic fan of the African-American holiday, explains in a piece for The Root DC why she and her son gradually dropped the traditions and daily lessons about the seven principles. Her new view: She can teach her child the important lessons about heritage, community and purpose without the frills, the tablecloths and the candles.

J and I faithfully celebrated Kwanzaa from the time he was an infant until he was about 10. Each year, we lit the seven candles, discussed the principles, threw on our Kwanzaa CD and read Kwanzaa children’s books. We hosted special dinners and brunches. Friends came over. Music played, and people danced. Kwanzaa was so big in our house when J was little that he thought it was a national holiday, celebrated by all.

Fast forward to 2010 when we spent December in California. During an early morning walk, I suddenly remembered it was Kwanzaa. On my phone, I quickly Googled the Kwanzaa principle for the day. I shouted across the misty park, "J! Today is Nia! Think about purpose!" He answered simply, "Okay!" And that constituted our entire Kwanzaa celebration for the day …

When J was little, I wanted to teach him about the importance of his culture and significance of our contributions to humanity. For the mother of a 5-year-old, singing songs and lighting candles were a great way to illustrate that. However, now I have a critically-thinking, intellectual teenager who is more interested in facts about African American inventors than nursery songs about creativity. More interested in reason than ritual.

When we actively celebrated Kwanzaa, I often relied on the concepts as set forth in "Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience." This 2095-page tome addresses many topics pertaining to black life and history. Inspired by the dream of the late African American historian W.E.B. Du Bois and edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Kwame Anthony Appiah, the Africana is possibly the first scholarly encyclopedia to focus on the history of Africa and the African diaspora.

Thinking of my son and my reason for celebrating Kwanzaa, I realize that if I want to teach him something, I will have to actually, literally teach him …

Read more at The Root DC.

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