Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Bucket List 2013 -- The Harlem Edition (Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa!)

None of the winter bucket lists I see online ever resemble mine. Not that I wouldn't want to go on a carriage ride or make gingerbread houses. That sounds cute but I'm way more likely to be found staying up all night making Kwanzaa presents or sipping my specialty Mexican hot chocolate at a black folk pot luck.

There's no getting away from Christmas once it explodes sometime in the fall (!!!) but the truth is, Kwanzaa has nothing to do with Christmas, it's not religious and it's not an anti-white people holiday alternative. Like a lot of things black folks do, Kwanzaa is something that we do for our selves -- to unite us, to honor our past as African-Americans, our collective history and our ancestors, and to reconnect with our purpose, as individuals and as a community. If white people are down with that and want to participate, hooray. There's always plenty of culture to go around. If not, oh well. It's really not about them.

Kwanzaa is much more fun than Christmas -- and for me, it's very personal. You have to make the gifts you give -- something that stymies a lot of people I know, until they realize that the gift doesn't have to be tangible.  The day you give the gift can infuse it with even more significance. If you're not craftsy, educational gifts are encouraged.  The Kwanzaa gifts I have given are pretty out there, I suppose.  You give what you have. You give who you are. I have been a pretty good wingman, agony aunt and third wheel in times past. I've given a voice lesson and a performance clinic here and there.  Once I even taught a friend how to smother a chicken.  And my pound cakes -- as well as my tomato pies -- are kind of legendary.

There are hard and fast rules but I don't live and die by them. I make them my own. Will you light Kwanzaa beeswax candles? Maybe.  Truth is, my libation ceremony will probably be cocktails with a few sisters at a speakeasy.

Lemmie put it to you this way. Christmas means running around in malls and bouncing around online and buying presents -- and if you run out of ideas or time or patience, Christmas means sending gift cards or cash money. You must send something. Kwanzaa means giving someone something very personal, something that you make with your own hands, something from you that will hopefully resonate with them in some way. You must give of yourself.

Here's a winter bucket list that may look a lot like yours.
  1. Get a wreath for your door -- or better yet (in the spirit of Kwanzaa),  make two and give one to a friend. 
  2. If you haven't already, it's probably a good idea to start assembling your Kwanzaa presents. (Un)fortunately, (most of) the things I make are edible. This year, I'm getting especially craftsy for a select few. (Finally!)  Otherwise, I'm locked in my kitchen for beef stew (Evan), smothered pork chops (Jane), several quarts of Mexican hot chocolate (you know who you are) and -- of course -- pound cake.
  3. Wait until that (Southern) ATL visit and go sit on Black Santa's lap at Greenbriar Mall. You know that's my story.  Black Santa, baby. (More on that here.)
  4. You wanna watch a holiday movie? Forget Elf. Watch Bad Santa with a bunch of black folk -- unedited, of course.  You'll laugh so hard, you'll scream.
  5. Go to The Apollo Theater's Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Night on Friday, December 27th.
  6. Go to American Museum of Natural History's Kwanzaa 2013: 35th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, December 28th.
  7. The dance company Batoto Yetu will celebrate the seven principles of Kwanzaa with movement and festivities at Aaron Davis Hall on Saturday, December 28th.
  8. From December 26 - 28, The African Burial Ground has a pretty spectacular Kwanzaa celebration -- the 10th Anniversary Observance of the Rites of Ancestral Return -- that includes short film, visual art, live music and performances that run the gamut from spoken word to The Black Nutcracker. And yes -- all of it is free and open to the public but reservations are required.
  9. The Studio Museum in Harlem has Hands On Kwanzaa Celebration -- art making activities and an interactive performance program for kids -- on Target Free Sunday, December 29th.
  10. Skip the Bridge and Tunnel crowd, the tourists and the rest of the amateurs and celebrate New Year's Eve Eve instead of New Year's Eve.  (That way, you can enjoy First Night and still have fun with revelers. More on that here.) You can catch me and my jazz quintet The Hot Five at The Player's Club in Grammercy Park on Monday, December 30th for The Salon's annual fete and December 31st for The Player's Club and their New Year's Eve gala.

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