In December, we advertised on our social media platforms that we had Christmas cards on sale in our gift shop. In response, one follower commented “Shouldn’t this be Kwanzaa?” Afterwards, we advertised our Pre Kwanzaa Fest and the same follower posted, “This is more like it.” These questions evoked several questions. Is it that this follower is saying that Black people should not be promoting Christmas? As Jamaicans, should we be celebrating an African-American holiday? What did Garvey think about Christmas?
Kwanzaa, the brainchild of Dr. Maulana “Ron” Karenga, is a relatively new observance, having its inception in 1966. Dr. Karenga created this holiday so that African-Americans, who were in the midst of a period of great social change, could have a time when they honour the values of African cultures and be inspired to fight for equality and progress. Kwanzaa is observed from December 26 to January 1 and is based on seven (7) principles that are believed to be the foundation of strong relationships among individuals, families, and communities.
Christmas, on the other hand, is originally a Christian observance of the birth of Jesus which dates as far back as 221; however it became a popular celebration in the 9th century. It was not until later in the early 20th century that the observance took on the secular components of gift shopping and giving, and Santa Claus.
Though Garvey was afro-centric, he was also a religious man who celebrated Christmas because he believed in Jesus, as is evident in his December 1921 Christmas Message. He referred to Jesus as “the Christ, the Emanuel to us, the Son of Righteousness, the Prince of Peace”. He began the speech by saying, “To us is born this day the Child Jesus—the Christ. The Shepherds and wise men are now wending their way toward Bethlehem, there to behold the Wonder of God. Because, there, in a manger, is to be found the Baby Christ who is to be the Redeemer of the world”. There is no doubt that Garvey would have also celebrated Kwanzaa, as it was a celebration of Black people. However, it would be highly unlikely that that would shift his belief in the Trinity.
It should be noted also, that Kwanzaa was not designed to replace Christmas. Both serve different purposes. We at Liberty Hall are guided by Garvey’s philosophies and opinions, and as such, whatever we do is in keeping with these principles. I bet Garvey would have liked the Christmas cards we were promoting as the images depicted Black people and the inside was blank, thereby allowing persons to express themselves. He would also have been at our Pre-Kwanzaa Fest to help promote and showcase the talents of our people.
It is the right of each person to observe both Christmas and Kwanzaa; no one should be forced to choose one over the other.