My first Christmas in the United States 1982

My first Christmas in the United States 1982 (I’m in the pink dress with my cousin Lendeh and her grandmother)

It’s that time of year again where I’m bombarded with cheerful greetings on the street, in the store, the Post Office, by assuming strangers, “Happy Kwanzaa!” When I smile back and say  I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa, the assuming strangers are generally shocked.  They ask, “Aren’t you black?”  Or, “You must not be African then?” Newsflash, many Africans in the United States and abroad don’t celebrate Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is not an African holiday. Kwanzaa is an African American holiday celebrated by some African Americans.

The first time I heard about Kwanzaa was when my white middle school teacher asked me what my family was doing for Kwanzaa that year. I never heard of Kwanzaa. I asked my parents and grandparents, they never heard of Kwanzaa either. I  went to our local library to research what this holiday meant. My grandmother told me to never spend one week a year celebrating being  Liberian.”Jeb, you are a Liberian from the day you were born until the day you die.”  Grandma was very patriotic.

Africans will tell you that we celebrate our traditions based on our religious affiliations. I grew up in an Episcopal household on both sides of my family. My paternal grandmother is Muslim. Yes, I do celebrate Christmas along with my family. My paternal grandmother celebrates her traditions based on her Islamic faith.

I understand the notion of African Americans showing pride in their cultural heritage. I get that, and the outcome is a positive one.  But don’t be surprised if I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa. I celebrate who I truly am, a Liberian-American woman every day until the end.

If you’ve never heard of Kwanzaa and would like to know more, here’s the official website created by its founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga.

The Official Kwanzaa Page