Today December 26th is the first day of Kwanzaa and I've begun to see it in a new light.
As is quite obvious I am not African American and quite frankly for many years never gave Kwanzaa much thought.
Like many of non black Americans I've tended to regard the holiday, first celebrated during the season from December 26 th to January 2nd in 1966 as a convenient invention of Black nationalists to distinguish themselves from other Americans. It was clearly an attempt to gain a sense of pride and encourage self-awareness.
In more recent years it has found its place in conjunction (as opposed to being in oppostion) with the celebration of Christmas.
It had also seemed so contrived, so "invented" as opposed to the well-established, ancient holidays of Christmas or even Hanukkah. And yet I clearly acknowledge the human element in creating those holidays as well.
Christmas and Hanukkah clearly differ from Kwanzaa not only in their antiquity but it their religious and spiritual dimensions. They also center around miracles–The birth of the Christ child and the miracle of the burning oil.
But what do I mean by the miracle of Kwanzaa?
As a species we tend to form tribal units, respecting and cherishing our own while fearing and threatening those whose beliefs differ from ours. History, even recent history is replete with genocides, holocausts, the slaughter of innocents, terrorist attacks and horrific acts of hatred towards fellow human beings. Kwanzaa emerged from the African-American experience and remembrance of the pain of human bondage.
We need to encourage the American ideal of tolerating and respecting the customs and traditions of those who differ from us. Respecting Kwanzaa is a tiny nod to that ideal.
True tolerance and respect for the practices and beliefs of others seems, at times, like a fragile flame, sputtering in the wind, on the verge of being extinguished.
Keeping that flame alive is the true miracle of the holiday season.