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Discovering Kwanzaa: A New Family Tradition [Including 2017 Event Line Up]

what is kwanzaaThe holidays are a special time to create and cherish family traditions. Both you and your spouse likely have your own family traditions from childhood that you want to carry on. You get to pick what family memories mean the most to you, share the traditions with your spouse, and pass them on to your children.

This year, I am looking forward to celebrating my second Kwanzaa. I have a mixed race family, and my son is biracial (African American and Chinese American). This time last year, I was nervous. I wondered, what exactly is Kwanzaa all about? Would I feel out of place?

I can’t explain the meaning of Kwanzaa like an expert would. But the thing is, family traditions do not require you to be an expert. Family traditions are about finding meaning in seemingly simple acts. The meaning comes from the shared celebration. The meaning comes from the intentionality of showing up and continuing customs year after year. Family traditions are about prioritizing what is important to you.

Kwanzaa started as a holiday to celebrate the strength of and create cultural traditions for a community once displaced. To me personally, Kwanzaa is a celebration of my mixed race family. Kwanzaa is a celebration of my husband’s family background, but we observe it as a shared family background. It gives us the opportunity to reflect together upon the ideal pillars of the African American community, and how to impart those principles onto our son. These values are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility (being community-minded), cooperative economics (supporting fellow businesses), purpose, creativity, and faith.

In San Francisco, there is a whole schedule of culturally enriching Kwanzaa festivities to partake in from December 26th to January 1st. Each event offers community partners, live entertainment, and hearty food. To celebrate, all you need to do is show up. There will also be an interfaith celebration recognizing Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa taking place on Sunday, December 17. Charlie’s Corner is doing three Kwanzaa and Africa-themed story times on December 22, and the public library is holding a feast and celebratory feast on December 31.

At my first Kwanzaa event last year, I was welcomed with open arms. Walking into the community gym, my husband, son and I were greeted like we were family. Nobody batted an eye when my son got fussy and I pulled to the side to try to soothe him, or when he wandered nearby the stage. A couple of individuals in workout clothes who had come expecting to play basketball in the gym hung out in the back, intrigued. Nobody told them to come back later. Nobody told them they did not belong.

I am enjoying the holiday season as we navigate what it means to us as a family, and how we choose to celebrate it. What family traditions have you learned about from your partner? What makes your holiday traditions unique?

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