Wednesday, December 03, 2008

CC examines Kwanzaa in the context of other American Cultural Holidays

Valentine’s Day
Historically: Probably originates from the feast of Lupercal, a Greek fertility festival. Swapping Valentines didn't really catch on until the Victorians.
How do we celebrate: By buying more greeting cards than on any other holiday, little kids exchanging candy, drinking alone in shame or ignoring it entirely.

St. Patrick’s Day
Historically: Catholic Religious holiday. Wasn’t even a bank holiday in Ireland until 1903.
How do we celebrate: Get drunk on green beer or ignore it entirely hoping that this will finally be the year that we go the entire day without our brain spontaneously chanting “We’re Here! We’re queer! We’re IRISH! Get used to it!”*

April Fools Day
Historically: The purpose of the holiday was to fuck with people who used the wrong calendar
How do we celebrate: Rubberband your favorite coworker’s chair to his/her desk, disbelieve news stories or ignore it entirely.

Mother’s Day
Historically: Cultural Holiday started in 1912 to celebrate mothers
How do we celebrate: Call Mom and/or take her to lunch. Really good kids buy presents. Bad kids ignore it entirely.

Father’s Day
See above, more or less

4th of July
Historically: Patriotic speeches, parades, picnics. Has been celebrated in some form or another since colonial times, but has only been a federal holiday since 1931
How do we celebrate: Patriotic speeches, parades, picnics. Public drunkenness and the occasional fireworks injury. A very hard holiday to ignore entirely, at least in my hometown.

Historically: Celtic harvest festival and the day before All Saints Day
How do we celebrate: Give candy to kids, get drunk in costume or ignore it entirely

Historically: Technically started with the Spanish having a mass to celebrate having arrived in Florida safely, but most people focus on some crap about the Pilgrims that mostly isn’t true. Wasn’t celebrated on the third Thursday in November until 1940.
How do we celebrate: Turkey, football, watching the Macy's parade and trying to explain the whole “Smallpox-infected blankets” thing to kids.

And finally…

Historically: Started in 1966 as an African-American cultural holiday.
How do we celebrate: Light candles, read African poetry, have a feast or ignore it entirely.

As far as I can see, almost all American cultural holidays are about:

1. Eating
2. Getting wasted
3. Pandering to little kids
4. Hanging out with your family and/or friends.
5. Smatterings of ritual here and there
6. Ignoring said holiday.

in some combination or another. The American cultural holidays that even existed 100 years ago weren't celebrated at all the same ways with the possible exception of Independence day and maybe Thanksgiving.

As far as I can tell, Kwanzaa is about all of the above excepting possibly getting wasted.

In this context, how the hell is Kwanzaa any phonier than MOST of America's cultural holidays?

who has no plans to celebrate Kwanzaa now or ever, but geez...

*Oh Crud, now it's in my head.


fausto said...

Other ways to celebrate April Fool's:

Stretch a sheet of clear Saran Wrap tightly over the toilet bowl, then lower the seat

Rubber band the trigger to the "open" position on the kitchen sink spray nozzle

If your household includes groggy morning coffee drinkers or cereal eaters, replace the sugar in the sugar bowl with salt

fausto said...

PS: As to Kwanzaa, I'll link to the same fellow UU's blog post here that I did over at The Socinian.

Chalicechick said...

Some Irish people think St. Patrick's Day is pretty lame, too.


fausto said...

That must be because St. P's Day celebrants takes themselves so much less seriously than the occasion really requires. Anyone who has read Yeats, Wilde or Joyce knows that off-key performances of "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" are not at all what Ireland is really about, especially if the tenors are too drunk to hit the high notes.

Chalicechick said...

Well, where's your outrage at St. Patrick's Day revelrey then?

I don't think Kwanzaa is "what Africa is all about" at all.

My impression is that it's about "Most people have the option of celebrating their ancestors' cultural holidays. Well, African-Americans who are decended from slaves don't. Because of the slave trade, they don't know where they're from, so they have to make our own culture. So they're making our own holiday focused on African culture as seen through American eyes and the African-American experience."

As a holiday more or less created solely by a few church services and an act of Congress, Father's Day is about as fake as you can get. But I assume you appreciate it and I doubt the fact that some people write snarky posts about how they hate father's day changes your opinion.

So why is Kwanzaa any faker?

For me this is fully into "If you don't want an abortion, don't get one, if you don't want same-sex marriage, don't marry someone of the same sex" territory.

Every year, I hear people bitch about Kwanzaa and I don't get why people get to cheesed off about something that doesn't really effect them.


PG said...


No link to your old post analogizing St. Patrick's to Kwanzaa?

From fausto's link: "to define them/ourselves in opposition to White Americans"

This seems to be a common misunderstanding, often tied to the idea that Kwanzaa is an "alternative" to Christmas. On the contrary, it was deliberately designed to start after Christmas so as not to conflict with the Christian holiday, Christianity being so important to most of the African American community at that time.

fausto said...

In the popular apprehension, Kwanzaa is often conflated with Christmas and Hanukkah as a triad of important seasonal holidays. In many UU churches, Kwanzaa is observed (at least perfunctorily) in worship along with other traditional (or maybe not so traditional) midwinter observances. In many UU RE programs, children are taught about Kwanzaa, but not Sts. Valentine or Patrick, or even Valentine's Day or St. Patrick's Day.

Point 1: When this sort of thing occurs, it ceases to be in the nature of "it's entirely up to you, take it or leave it".

Point 2: It's legitimate to compare the superficiality of Kwanzaa to other superficial cultural celebrations as CC does, but it's not legitimate to conflate the ostensible validity of Kwanzaa with the authentic validity of long-practiced holy observances from long-established genuine religions. (It's not even legitimate to conflate unrelated authentic observances from different authentic religions, unless there is some authentic historic or religious connection such as with Passover/Easter or Shavuoth/Pentecost, but that's another discussion.)

Point 3: Kwanzaa is differentiated from most of the other invented celebrations that CC compares it to by the loftiness of its pretensions. Nobody singing the harmony to "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" or pulling pranks on April Fool's Day seriously believes that they are making a Very Important Statement by doing so.

Point 4: I'm sure I'll think of more.

Chalicechick said...

1. What, you’ve never seen mother’s day observed in church? I’ve attended services with sermons about most of those cultural holidays, and Katy-the-Wise’s archives indicated she’s preached on most of them. I would call this a more that perfunctory observance of most cultural holidays. And I’m surprised your kids have never made mother’s day cards or Valentines in RE. I’m pretty sure the presbys had me doing that stuff. I KNOW I made Thanksgiving cards for older members of the church because there’s one weird old lady who reminds me of the turkey card I made her when I was seven every time I go to my parents’ church. If I were a better person I would have sent her another a long time ago since it clearly meant something to her.

2. Agreed.

3. I have certainly seen other cultural holidays celebrated with lofty pretensions, especially Thanksgiving and Independence day. I think that like with Thanksgiving and Independence Day, there will always be those who take a pretentious approach and a majority who do not. (My impression is that the most pretentious celebrants of Kwanzaa are white people and that their pretension is really a form of bending over backwards trying to do things correctly and seriously as not to be disrespectful. This impression could be incorrect, though.)

That said, I’m not sure what the relative level of pretension among the celebrants has to do with the legitimacy of the holiday itself.

4. I look forward to it.


Comrade Kevin said...

I think the idea of holidays is intrinsically phony in and of itself, since so few people use them for solemn remembrance and most use them as an excuse to be irresponsible.

As much as I want to believe otherwise, I know this to be true.

PG said...

Until I see black people organizing to complain about a War on Kwanzaa, or about how the True Meaning of Kwanzaa has been over-commercialized, I'm going to be skeptical that they're all that pretentious about the holiday. And if it's white people making the complaint, that's about as sensible as my agnostic Hindu self bemoaning the excess of Santas, shortage of nativity scenes, and use of the apparently heinous phrase "happy holidays."

Myself, I wish you all a Joyous Festivus. Let the feats of strength begin!

epilonious said...

While I find this post intriguing, I can't help but notice that this post is loved by someone trying to sell car insurance and that the st-patricks-kwanzaa analogy post is loved by someone trying to post green tour tickets or some such.

I've heard of ham for the holidays...

Robin Edgar said...

Will Susan keep SPAMming this blog very often? That is the question. . .

Chalicechick said...

Shrug. Dunno. There's also a post that looks like Spam in the thread about the movie I saw yesterday. I guess blogger is having some issues keeping spammers out right now.

ogre said...

Cinco de Mayo is as American as St Patrick's Day.

But what the hell, I'm in favor of excuses for celebration, whether they're good or tenuous (excuses).

Anonymous said...

I'm with Ogre -- any excuse to celebrate is a good excuse.

ellen z. said...

On your note about St. Patrick's Day not being a bank holiday in Ireland until 1903 -- Ireland was a British colony until 1918, when Sinn Fein won the parliamentary election and created the first Dail, or Irish Parliament. I admittedly don't know much about how much/whether it was observed beforehand, but it's very possible that it wasn't really possible for it to be a bank holiday due to British imperialism, especially given its Catholic significance.