Mon 2 Jan 2012
We just went through a whirlwind of seasonal celebrations — so many that I sometimes became confused. When I wished another customer in the bank a Merry New Year and a Happy Christmas, a teller laughed, “You got it backwards.”
A week or two before Christmas, Richard Kirschman of Point Reyes Station and I got into a discussion about seasonal greetings. “Merry Christmas,” of course, is traditional among Christians while Jews wish each other “Happy Hanukkah.” But how do blacks greet each other during Kwanzaa (which has been a celebration for 45 years)?
“Have a Quality Kwanzaa” Richard suggested, but I was skeptical and looked it up. Turns out the correct greeting is “Heri za Kwanzaa.” Kwanzaa runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, with each day devoted to one of seven principles of African heritage.
A Kwanzaa ritual of lighting a candle in the Kinara.
When someone greets you with “Heri za Kwanzaa,” your response depends on which day of Kwanzaa it is. On the first day, for example, the response is “Umoja,” which means to strive for unity in your family, community, nation, and race. On the second day, your response should be, “Kujichagulia,” which means to stand up for yourself and speak out. The words are in Swahili because it’s a pan-African language.
As it happened, I was born to Christian Science parents while my girlfriend Lynn was born into a Jewish family. Both of us are non-practicing, but we have been learning a bit of each others’ traditions. When I stumble over the Christmas tree, I now exclaim, “Oy vey iz mir.”
And when Lynn feigns chagrin that she’s lost her menorah, she’s likely to mutter, “Jesus H. Christ!”
Among Jews, it’s common to refer to each other as “members of the tribe,” which makes sense given the 12 tribes of Israel. In my home, we referred to other Christian Scientists as “CS.”
Unfortunately, some of my non-Christian Science friends used “CS” as shorthand for “chicken sh-t.” I can still remember my mother asking one of my classmates, “Are you CS?” The poor fellow was offended and also very puzzled why mom would ask him such an impertinent question.
All this makes me suspect that if the whole world spoke the same lingo, there would be far fewer cultural clashes. But we don’t, so I’ll use this opportunity to wish my Spanish-speaking readers, “Prospero año nuevo.”