Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Day Reflections From the Past

I was thinking about my Christmas memories from the early 1960s in Saint Louis, Missouri. I recall my parents did not have the income to purchase many gifts. But I didn't know what others were getting in terms of presents, especially people who were affluent and had money to spare. So, not knowing made Christmas time tolerable in those days. I only recall one or two Christmas days from my youth. Getting a tricycle around age 6. Then bringing home some used gifts we got from school when I was maybe in the 3rd grade. I do recall from the Saint Louis days helping to make a Christmas wreath using popped pop corn and sewing the popcorn together!  I recall the old "silver tinsel" and putting it on a tree. Getting swamped by too many toys was not something I had to worry about when I was a kid!

When my adult Christmas days came, I know I overcompensated with my two sons and gave them too much on Christmas Day. But in a way it was making up for the Christmas Days I never had (in terms of material things). So my sons' Christmas joy was also my Christmas joy. As parents you want your children to have better than you had.

In the early 1960s Christmas time images in the media (television, movies, radio) largely depicted the Caucasian culture foreign to us as black people. Black people were rarely featured on television, or in movies. Television during the Christmas holiday primarily showed images of Caucasian people and their lifestyles. A TV commercial featuring black people was a rare event in my days as a youth. I actually remember yelling out loud whenever a commercial showed a black person. It was like we did not exist in this country. Yes, the images thrust at us was of a culture that did not reflect how we as black people lived in reality.

In my youth, during the holidays you might see one or two black entertainers on TV singing traditional white Christmas songs. At home I know my parents played Christmas songs by black entertainers that you never heard on "white" television shows. Of course it was a big thing back then to find a black Santa Claus to take your kids to see.

As the 1960's progressed, we as black people got more into our own culture and ways to celebrate Christmas. A black Santa became common. Kwanza became an African American alternative to celebrating Christmas. Our music became more prevalent and black entertainers started making "albums" where our soulful versions of Christmas music was featured. Thankfully progress was made. Sometimes I think the progress we made has slowed some over the past years. We still control our destiny. It is up to us to keep progressing forward and to not allow future generations to think they have to fully adopt the values and customs of a culture that once enslaved them. It's more than okay to be a black person.

On this Christmas Day it's okay to think about your Christmas Days of the past. Yeah, compare those to the Christmas Day you are having this year. Then promise and commit to keeping some element of your black/African American heritage as part of your Christmas celebration.

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