Saturday, December 29, 2007

Happy Kwanzaa?

Watch it now folks. Be sure to set those phasers to stun. I want to talk a little about the other holiday. No not Chanukah. I’m talking about Kwanzaa. My guess is that most of you don’t flow with the big K but that doesn’t keep you from having an opinion about it. From what I can see most black folks I know don’t do the Kwanzaa thing either. For one it’s a week long trek and most of us are just plain wiped out after the Big Toy day. Second there seems to be too much involved especially for those of us who’ve splurged our energy quota on the Winter Solstice holiday. For most Kwanzaa passes with a few obligatory ‘Happy Kwanzaa’s’ to maintain the façade that we’re keeping it real and are still down with whatever blackness we have left.

A few years ago I wrote a response to an article that warned black Christians to stay as far away from Kwanzaa as possible. The writer seemed to believe that Kwanzaa was deliberately intended to take the focus off of Christmas and draw unsuspecting black Christians into a man-made celebration of culture that had nothing whatsoever to do with the birth of Christ. He then urged black Christians refrain from all references to Kwanzaa and to be sure they keep the Christ in Christmas. I responded to this brother for a number of reasons. Firstly, I would never tell him to refuse to celebrate July 4th just because political and not spiritual freedom is the core of the celebration. Secondly, I presume he wouldn’t tell believers of other ethnicities to refuse to celebrate holidays that had particular meaning in their culture as long as that meaning wasn’t a religious one. Thirdly if European Christians could transform an overtly pagan holiday into the celebration of Jesus’ birth then why can’t black Christians celebrate Kwanzaa with a Christian emphasis?

For those who aren’t aware of the actual genesis of Christmas it may be helpful to do a little research on it. In the ancient Roman empire Dec. 25 in all likelihood featured the celebration of the ‘re-birth’ of a pagan deity. Pagan priests would go throughout the city and its temples celebrating his birth with singing, gift-giving and other aspects we associate with the celebration of Christmas. It appears that sometime between 330 and 340 AD Emperor Constantine declared this pagan celebration a Christian holy day commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ and thus Christmas as we know it was born.

I wonder if some of our ancient brothers and sisters questioned this decision? I mean one year they’re ignoring yet another debased pagan celebration and then the next they’re told that Dec. 25 is now to be celebrated as the birth of their Lord. If some of the early saints had reservations I’m sure you could see why. For one the scriptures are quite clear as to some of the most important details surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ and yet nowhere do they mention the date of His birth. If that weren’t enough they may have raised the issue that uniting the birth of the world’s savior with a pagan holiday was a tad bit syncretistic. Isn’t it possible that if the church brought the practice of singing, gift-giving, etc. that pagans might assume it’s alright to intermingle other aspects of pagan idolatry with biblical Christianity? Others however could have responded that celebrating Dec. 25th as the birth of Christ could give the church a golden opportunity to declare the gospel to the very pagans who are already open to the belief of deity coming into the world via a human birth. Whether or not those concerns were raised we now know and live with the reality that the vast majority of Christians celebrate Dec. 25th as the date of Jesus’ birth. In effect ancient European Christians converted a pagan holiday into a celebration of worship of our Lord even while keeping many of pagan details of the holiday.

Could the same be said of Kwanzaa?
I’m not saying that black believers should try and convert Kwanzaa into another Christian holiday. However, could we not observe it with a Christian emphasis? Some would say absolutely not! They could claim (rightly) that the creator of Kwanzaa did not want religion to be apart of the celebration and actually disdained biblical Christianity. Of course one of the main problems with that stance is that the notion of any communal celebration divorced from the Creator is very un-African. Since Kwanzaa means a celebration of the first fruits couldn’t we use this holiday to lift the eyes of those searching for purpose, unity, community and faith to the real Lord of the harvest?

And even if you have no intention of celebrating or observing Kwanzaa it may not be necessary for you to cast a pharisaic gaze at those who bid you a Happy Kwanzaa. Just reciprocate their wish and pray that the Lord of the harvest will grant you the opportunity to share with them the ultimate blessing of the first fruits.

Happy Kwanzaa
Pastor Lance


Lionel Woods said...

Pastor Lance,

Happy New Year to you Sir. God bless and I pray that this year will be better to you than the previous one. I too got into a small theological discussion about Kwanza. Someone built a strawman on paganism and African cult practices. I easily crushed the strawman in order to get down to the heart and real issue at hand.

At the end of the day, there was nothing found in the principles of Kwanza that was anti-biblical, as a matter of fact most of them should be easily embraced by us. I would be careful on the ancestor part (though I don't think it had anything to do with worship). We said we were going to celebrate Kwanza a couple of Christmas' ago but it is a daunting task. However, as it relates to the post, I think it is a great tradition to embrace and maybe this year will be the year to do it.

I think we don't question things enough in our community, somebody says something and it sounds good, but no real research is done to ensure accuracy. Easter is another holiday I struggle with and it is funny that no Christians are offended by easter bunnies and eggs (both paganistic) but are offended when someone says Happy Holidays and will refuse to shop there. Wierd to me, but hey, just my opinion.

Irwyn said...

Happy New Year LL,

Because of my background before Christ, I have some pretty strong viewpoints about Kwanzaa. I recently made a few comments on the African American Opinion blog. I invite you to read it here I wouldn't mind continuing the conversation.


Jim Pemberton said...

Pastor Lance, I've never taken the time to consider the impact and intent of Kwanzaa and you have some very good thoughts here.

Pastor Lance said...

Happy New Year all,

brother LW, you're right in that believers need to alot more humility re: Christmas and Easter. we can't mandate people to celebrate holidays not even mentioned in scripture.

while I'm probably not going to celebrate Kwanzaa, I don't want to miss an opportunity to witness to those who do.

I will certainly check you out DBL I and respond there. btw are we still getting together on the 23rd?

thanks for hitting me up again Jim. we all know that a good discussion is appropriate any time of year.