By Vivi Dumas
Growing up in a multi-cultural, military family brought a wealth of diversity to my holiday experiences. The holidays were always a special time in my family. I think my parents tried very hard to make a big deal out of them because we never had family close to celebrate with. My sisters and I grew up all over, moving from place to place, but never close to our grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins.
We spent a majority of our younger years growing up in Germany. As some of you may know from other posts, my father is African American and my mother is Korean. All these variables made the holiday season long and interesting. My parents celebrated all holidays for both our cultures, plus we celebrate the German holidays in school. September through January was a busy time of year for our family.
We began our holiday season with Chuseok. Chuseok is the Korean Festival of the Harvest or Korean Thanksgiving as my mother called it. It is celebrated very much like our American Thanksgiving with family and friends gathering and lots of food. Only thing missing is the litany of football games (1 point for Chuseok). During this time, we ate many of the traditional Korean dishes such as Japchae (glass noodles sautéed with vegetables and beef) and Bulgogi (marinated beef). Chuseok is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, usually somewhere in September or October.
Then we had our traditional Thanksgiving in November. Thanksgiving was a lot of work in our house. We didn’t have our family over for Thanksgiving, but my father would bring all his soldiers who were left in the barracks for the holiday to our house. There was always a large crowd of hungry guys and anyone from the church who needed a place to eat. The best thing about being on a military base is that it is a close-knit community. My father has a kind heart and also grew up as a military brat so had a special place in his heart for the soldiers. Another great thing about Thanksgiving at our house was you got both American and Korean food. The amount of food was overwhelming even with the guys from my dad’s company and my mom’s friends.
When I was 6 years old we moved to Germany and left during my freshman year in high school. Christmas or the Advent season was beautiful in Germany. I had the opportunity to learn the German holiday traditions from my friends and in school. I loved my Advent calendar (who doesn’t like a piece of chocolate everyday). In Germany, we put out our shoes or boots for St. Nicholas to bring us goodies or twigs sometimes coal for the bad girls and boys. Now that I think back, putting food in old sweaty shoes might not be such a sanitary idea, but as a child it was fun and exciting.
As I grew a little older, I researched and learned more about Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is an African American holiday, which brings a cultural message about love of people, self, and community. It was founded by Dr. Maulana Karerga. Kwanzaa is built around seven principles:
- Umoja (Unity) – Focuses on unity in family
- Kujichagulia (Self Determination) – Focuses on defining ourselves
- Ujima (Collective work and responsibility) – Focuses on building and maintaining our communities
- Nia (Purpose) – Focuses on restore our people to their greatness
- Kuumba (Creativity) – Focuses on leaving your community more beautiful and beneficial than when you came into it
- Imani (Faith) – Focuses on believing in our people, our parents, teachers, leaders, and the victory of the struggle
Kwanzaa is celebrated with a setting, which consists of covering a table with an African cloth. On top of the cloth goes the mkeka or mat. You then place the kinara (candle holder) with the mishumaa saba (seven candles representing the seven priciples) on the mkeka. Around the kinara we place the mazao (crops) and corn and the kikombe cha umoja (unity cup). The colors for Kwanzaa are black (represents the people), red (represents the struggle), and green (represents hope for the future). The principles of Kwanzaa are something I think any community can utilize to grow and prosper.
My world was filled with diverse traditions and great learning opportunities. I love the holiday season. Christmas is my favorite time of the year. It takes me back to my childhood and a time of innocence. It’s a time when family gathers, people are nicer, and we take moment from our lives to think of others. No matter how you celebrate your holiday season or even if you don’t celebrate any of the traditional holidays, take some time out to spend with your family and friends, spread a little love, and make someone’s day a little brighter.
One of the holiday traditions I've started with my family is collecting beautiful ornaments for our tree. In the future, I hope to pass these ornaments to my girls. I would like to spread a little holiday cheer and some of my tradition to a lucky commenter. My gift to you is a lovely Lenox Snowflake ornament. I hope you enjoy it as much as I love mine.
Happy holidays to everyone!
Psst…If you’re looking for a special gift, think about a book. I know a few good ones;-)