You could always tell it was that time of the year. The Ihentuge Household always had cookies on deck. Both shortbread and sugar cookies were in quick supply most Decembers and for most of my childhood these moments of banding together with my family to make them hold true as some of my fondest. The Holidays can either be the best of times or the worst of times. With so many different types of Holidays being celebrated, one can only hope that the communion of companionship in times of giving stand strong against next-gen console requests.
As a child, my family’s winter seasons offered monthly engagements with our local Nigerian Foundation. Detroit alone is home to over 14,000 immigrants from the continent of Africa. Seperate from that number, there are still many American citizens from the continent as well. Holidays would always be different depending on the household. There are over 50 countries in Africa. It’s safe to say Christmas is probably celebrated at least 50 different ways mostly by Christians across the continent Taking a page from the Alchemist, It should come as no surprise that many families are having worldly experiences in our own backyard. A lot my cousins and I would circle back every year at the Annual African Holiday circuit and compare notes. Halls, Homes, Apartment buildings, and parks...you name it; Jubilant dancing and joyous speech carried the dull spots of the gloomy winter months. We didn’t celebrate Kwanza but I never quite got how Jesus found his way to the dinner tables of Leg of Lamb and plantain. Christianity takes up about 49% of the population. So cookies and eggnog didn’t mean for us to go without Egusi and MoiMoi. Got it. Puff Puff and almond milk for Santa Claus because it’s delicious. 100 percent.
I never understood why an individual of Asian heritage that has a foriegn born parent and an American born parent is still considered Asian but my American Born mother and foreign born father from the continent loses its African adjective. Am I a descendant of Africa or am I African. I didn’t know that growing up African American meant I’d laugh out loud at an Yvonne Orji comedy set. In the 17th century, Roman Catholic missionaries found their way to Nigerian territory. It feels like yesterday, in the basement of my childhood my father told me that Things Fall Apart and I should read about it. Centuries before the colonial era living in a relatively egalitarian society, I wonder at the strength of its roots. From the traditions of the Efik to where we are today and how we got there, the turmoil of celebrating Christmas while deliberately glazing over those nuanced historical implications is like telling Santa to hand me the blue pill.
In the times before the christian missionaries worked tirelessly to make way to what would become the after thought of colonial expansion Chinua Achebe would soon after exclaim “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan no longer act like one.” Enter the Masquerades. I’d like to think of those jubilant times where the celebrations would take place outside...armed with the Almighty Jollof rice times of recognition and celebration enthralled a peoples. Many African societies have a rich tradition of masquerades, which are plays, ceremonies, or dances by masked performers. Masquerades provide entertainment, define social roles, and communicate religious meaning. The masks used in such performances may be treasured as works of art. They are also important symbols of ancestors, spirits, or even the history and culture of whole peoples. Cultures and traditions of old not yet forgotten have been blended and as we move forward I’d like to think of the values still prominent today through this holiday season. The nostalgia of the holiday lights abound remind me of the egalitarian ways of the Igbo people as transcend in our own family traditions growing up. Amongst our Pod each group would take a designated party time for that reason without much to adu. So we knew during what holiday where we were going and could expect a time to commune with friends and family.
I feel like every person will always have their own mind and their own way of thinking. That being said no matter how we come about the holidays and despite what historical connotations lie in the air of the holiday season no matter how indirectly troubling they may be to the identity of Christmas among black peoples there is also the positive association of these times that connect us all across the diaspora.
In example, Today you can without question see an African influence in Haitian culture. But Haiti's culture is also a mix with many different elements: elements from colonial France and it's legacy, Native Americans (Taínos), Spaniards (they once occupied the entire island) and others. The United States influences at some point by force caught up too, so there's some English words in Haitian language today as well.
Despite all of that, there are some very strong similarities and connections to Nigeria. The word Igbo actually exists in Haitian Creole and translate to ibo. There are folkloric songs, hotels, radio stations in Haiti today by the name of ibo (translating directly to igbo). Haiti was one of the few countries in the world back (the only one in North America) to have supported Biafran independence, not just for the sake of it. Our leader/government (Duvalier) believed our cultural ancestry has a strong presence there. There's documented evidence one of the forefathers (Haiti's first King in the North) boring his ancestry in Nigeria.
I say all of this to say we across the diaspora aren't to dis-similar to each other in all parts of the world in all parts of countries everywhere. While we are more separated than ever, let's celebrate in solidarity our rich ancestry and our ability despite context to always keep it fresh, authentic, and all the way Blac.