Usually, December 26th, is the first day of Kwanzaa, but I started on the 24th this year. Because that’s the day my husband’s family celebrates Christmas, even though I don’t celebrate Christmas, I wanted to allow him to celebrate it with my full support. I wanted also to celebrate Kwanzaa with his full support and let our two kids take and leave whatever traditions they chose.
I was feeling so close to my son that day, overjoyed that he is in my life, a very loving and easy to care for baby 9 months old and all too soon going to walk and start being a toddler and stop being a baby forever.
My heart was completely at peace when my daughter, 4 years old, wanted to start Kwanzaa that day. Our Kwanzaa is already very unconventional, since we are mixed Asian, Mexican and somewhat, but not very much African. It’s unconventional, but very sincerely from the heart also. I really believe that since the ultimate mother of my mother is African (as is everyone) that Kwanzaa and African values become the birthright of humanity as well.
Usually the central black candle represents the African race, but to me, it represents more, solidarity of humankind and living beings in general.
The traditional value of the first day is “Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.” I just extend it further inward to mean the unity of the self, and further outward to mean the unity of the human race, and once again to include to an extent living creatures such as pets.
It’s weird being mixed (both my parents were mixed), in that there is no way for us to exist and go about our daily lives without blending concepts, styles, values, ext that some other people will be offended by, it’s not done in disrespect, but it does bother some people, yet it’s something we can not help or choose. We ourselves are a fusion of what some people would have wanted unfused, but it was never a choice for us, so it becomes second nature to break traditions, not because we like it, but because we were forced to break them early and became aware that it is possible and sometimes beneficial and other times unavoidable.
There were three things on my mind, one was how do I live in an “antifragile” way, how do I tie my individual value with the holiday so it matters for me? The second was how do I practice Rachel Macy Stafford’s idea: “Living fully means… reaching for connection, even when your hands shake.” That was easy because I had a kind of social anxiety that a celebration was going on at our home as well as the big one at my husband’s home (the only time my husband’s six siblings assemble fully). I don’t have much small group social anxiety and don’t mind meeting people or medium crowds, but I do kind of hate and get nervous about parties, so I was literally having my hands shake hours before the party started and I remembered the movie “The Way Home” where a Korean grandma keeps telling her grandson how she loves him even though he keeps misbehaving. I remembered that I wanted to stop being like the little boy who stole from his grandma for Gameboy batteries and to start being like the grandma who only responded with love each time her grandson was bad.
I also had Maya Angelou’s: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better,” to soothe my soul.
I had text all my husband’s family that we were not doing gifts this year, my husband had called his mom and asked that the gifts be kept in the bedroom until we left and moved to the tree for opening when we went home at about 8PM. Because my mother in law had said yes I had decided to go to their Christmas celebration with the best possible attitude.
I warned my daughter for two months our family doesn’t do Christmas gifts, we do birthday gifts and her cousins do get Christmas gifts, but don’t get birthday many gifts, which is true. But we had asked that the gifts not be under the tree to set up my daughter for success that she not throw a big fit.
We had problems earlier this year that when the family visited our home on normal days my daughter would jump on them (literally) and ask them what present they had brought her. It was quite sad that she didn’t say “hello” or “how are you” or “thank you for coming to see me.” It happened about three times and each time I tried to stress that gifts are okay, but people are what matters. I was saying that with my words, but the way my family was acting was saying something else, that’s why I decided to do a gift free Christmas for our family this year. I needed to change the way we do it, I needed that for me, for us, I knew it might inconvenience the others, so I apologized right from the start for the inconvenience, but this is what I needed for us this year.
Everyone was supportive saying they would respect our choices and that they thought it was a good idea.
My husband worked Christmas Eve, I taught the kids math and most of our normal school routine, but not too much so they wouldn’t be drained later (we skipped reading). My husband came home, we were all excited to go to grandma’s house to see her, thank her, my daughter was going to give a dance show and play with her cousins who would have slept over the night before.
When we got there things were different than we expected, literally first thing was so many presents they overflowed the tree and took up the living room walk space, second thing was no cousins they were hours late even from their update – so no kids to play with for my daughter, third thing my mother in law had given up music and dance because her new pastor didn’t advocate them and had given us no heads up about that.
I was so proud of my daughter that she was good, we even talked about it, I told her “I am so, so proud of you for being good,” she said, “because of the presents, I’m okay mom, but it’s okay for me to talk about it?” I’m so proud that she was okay, it filled me with so much appreciation of who my daughter is. There have been times I worried I needed to take my kids away to China, or Mexico or Hawaii to raise them with values, but they are showing me that even if we are around drug users or materialist or whomever it won’t infect them like the plague, it’s a little harder to see that stuff and answer extra questions I don’t feel like I have the answers or energy to answer, but all is not lost raising kids in the city in California. We can live in a country where Donald Trump is the president without living in a house where men can disrespect women, we can live in a state where a lot of materialism and rudeness is commonplace, without allowing it to enter the way our family communicates. It’s on our streets and minds, but it doesn’t need to be in our homes or hearts.
I was a little off-balanced by everyone telling me one thing and doing another, because in my family that doesn’t happen.
But then I remembered gratitude and that saved me.
Gratitude to see the people who were there, to share those moments, to be able to talk in person.
Gratitude to the woman who raised my husband with no help from his dad, who left before he was even two years old.
I felt so much gratitude for my mother in law when I realized how hard it must have been, she had been imperfect leaving my husband in Mexico to go work in the U.S., she had hit her kids more than warranted, but the amount of work it takes to work, come home, actually home cook food, every day is so staggering. She didn’t have patience or education to share with her kids having gone only to one or two years of school, but she gave them life, courage, and cooking skills. She basically gave them all she was and all she had to give.
I really wanted to express our gratitude to her that night, but I didn’t get the chance, she served food and then retired to her room. Even if I would have talked to her, I don’t think she would have understood. I speak her language, Spanish, but in a way, I don’t speak “her” language. I don’t know how I could really connect to her, everyone says “thank you” when it means nothing, so when you mean it, it doesn’t communicate the sentiment well. “Thank you” has become like a boat with many holes, it can sail, but it can’t carry what it was meant to carry anymore.
So even though I was surprised the gifts were on display, I was sad that three people had lied to me, which in my family is a major offense, I remembered my challenge to myself to be “antifragille” not to let anything about Christmas ruin my day in any way I could control. I realized I was not embracing my husband’s family without also embracing their custom that many lies are acceptable and common for them. I remembered that I had professed to myself the idea of viewing humanity with unity and that means laying down the expectation everyone “take up” the values that work for me and “put down” the ones that work for them. I remembered the gratitude I had for my grandmother who raised me, even though she was racist, I remembered the gratitude I had for my mother-in-law for raising my husband, giving life to the person who gave life to the baby who I hold in my arms right now. And in gratitude I felt love and shame, but when I remembered Maya Angelou’s “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better,” the shame lifted and I forgave myself the slip into bitterness and was able to: “Living fully means… reaching for connection, even when your hands shake.”
When I forgot about the gifts, the show, who was late, who was absent, I was able to see and enjoy who was there, ask “how are you doing?” Notice them as human beings like me, making it through the winter, mostly having been sick, mostly having been tired, mostly with good attitudes and appreciation for the joy our kids bring us. Mostly forgetting our kids come from us, us from our parents.
I chose the tornado to represent unity of humankind and the first day of Kwanzaa because all humans breathe, no matter which holiday we celebrate once a year, we all can’t live five minutes without air. It unifies us even if we don’t embrace unification, like a tornado brings everyone together in loss against their wishes… air brings us all together, all us lost siblings of the first mother. 🌪