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Caribbean families embrace kwaanza as Christmas becomes too materialistic


As Christmas becomes ever more materialistic, Caribbean families in Britain are increasingly turning to Kwaanza – a festival rooted in an African tradition - as the setting for their family celebrations, according to research sponsored by the ESRC.

Many will go to church on Christmas morning in what they see as part of their Caribbean tradition. But Kwaanza is now also widely celebrated by black people across the Caribbean, the UK and rest of Europe, usually alongside Christmas, or even as a reaction against it.

Research among second and third generation young people of Caribbean origin, found that the period between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day is an important family ritual, with an intense period of contact and catching up with far-flung relations.

Christmas is regarded as an important religious festival in the Caribbean, and the practice of church-going and collective worship still represents an important characteristic of its culture.

Many young people felt that whilst perhaps not practising their religion all the time, their families were more spiritual and church-oriented than the average British family. They spoke of traditions such as table-blessing on Christmas Day, and their father saying grace.

Kwaanza - celebrated from December 26 to January 1 - reaffirms the importance of family, community and culture among black people. Its role as a popular, spiritual and family-based celebration in a western industrialised context was begun in the United States by African-Americans.

The young people who identified Kwaanza as a time for family celebration expressed cynicism about the increased materialism and consumer culture of Christmas and the influence of European values and beliefs on its celebration. They spoke also of a wish to adhere to a spiritual and religious festival that expresses black unity and fellowship.

During Christmas, Caribbean young people in the UK use family relationships around the world in very particular ways to celebrate what they see as Caribbean cultural practices and ethnic traditions. And this reinforces their sense of belonging to their ethnic group.

Taking part in celebrations also enables them to be part of family networks dispersed around the globe.

Michael, 22, said: “No matter what’s going on, I always make sure I go home to Jamaica for Christmas. Usually about five or six of my 10 uncles and aunts go home. It’s a family tradition that we meet up at my parents’ house in Kingston and then travel down to my uncle in Montego Bay on Christmas Eve. Usually my uncle from Germany is there as well. Last Christmas, my aunt from New Zealand came. Some of my Dad’s aunties from the States were there, and three of his cousins and their kids, they all live in Canada. What we do when there is pretty much sit down and eat, drink and catch up with each other. Our family ‘get togethers’ are important. It keeps us emotionally close.”

Advances such as e-mail and the Instant Messenger service mean that physical separation no longer poses a problem in terms of the immediacy of contact between family members. And the relative ease and affordability of air travel mean that it is not too difficult for dispersed family members to come together in the Caribbean, so reinforcing ethnic, family and cultural ties to the region.

Becky Gammon | alfa
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