I wasn’t raised celebrating holidays but fell in love with them as an adult. Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness allowed such mixed blessings in my childhood. I was enveloped by the religion’s most earnest expressions of brotherly love. Worldly pursuits are unimportant to Witnesses; therefore, everyone around me was either poor or living modestly while abundant in faith, love, and generosity. My community was known to me, and I never doubted my place among them. Concurrently, I attended public school and had all the associated social pressures. I watched other kids make Christmas lists for Santa, overheard stories about lavish quinceañeras, and I stepped out of class and into the hallway each day during the pledge of allegiance. I had always been on the outside–until I jumped in with both feet!
At 38 years old, I was a new mother and wanted my son, Shiloh, to have the fullest array of cultural experiences possible. I wanted him to have a “normal” childhood, different from my own. Consistent with my interculturalist background, I made a conscious choice for us to celebrate a variety of holidays and commit to discovering and exploring the cultural stories behind them. Every year when Shiloh was younger, we would stand in long lines at shopping malls to sit on Santa’s lap—rotating from white Santas to Black Santas for range in our photo collection. We would have movie nights re-watching Elf or Miracle on 34th Street—for hours, laughing or crying, respectively. We’ve spent Kwanzaa in New Orleans at BMike’s art studio, where we participated in drum circles with local elders and practiced quiet contemplation during the spiritual and physical centering of Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan. This year, we educated ourselves about the origin and meaning of Diwali and carried forward the beautiful thread of light into Hanukkah.
Shiloh is now 15, and I have, as is the gift of time, a new perspective. I realize that:
Our world right now is filled with unnecessary pettiness. Black or white thinking abounds. People are painted as all good or all bad. Picking people apart publicly is rewarded by likes, and likes have become an addictive toxin. We insist on seeing each other as parts to be admonished rather than whole people and stories to be curious about, learn from, and potentially even understand.
Bitterness does not have to be our default.
When fear is winning, obstacles are constant and unbearable, and all systems are breaking down, the most empowering thing we can do is look inside.
The way through and forward is greater than any single one of us.
“Call off the search party, I was inside me all along!”
- Rebecca Campbell
May your holiday season be filled with the joys of ceremony, rest, and peace; fully aware of and filled with gratitude for each. May you have the opportunity to give, and to be filled with love. The community I’ve found in the myriad places–the homes of family members and new acquaintances, drum circles, prayer and meditation groups, meetings and Zoom calls with colleagues and clients, places of worship and community volunteerism, or even standing with other tired parents and caregivers as we’ve waited our turn for pictures with Santa, those to me are the beautiful ties that bind us. We are not all alike, yet we are all seeking to be seen, recognized, loved, prioritized, and championed. Across religious and spiritual beliefs, geo-political borders, cultural identities, and life experiences, we can bring forward more of what we want in the world. Just as I sought to instill in Shiloh an expansive and love-centric sense of “who we are” and “what we value,” each of us conveys the same important cultural messages in every interaction. Looking back over the years, and ending this tumultuous year, I am sure that faith, love, and generosity are always in season.
Sending warmth and love, lots and lots of love.
DeEtta and the DJA Team