Does anyone else remember learning about Kwanzaa? When I was in grade school, there were three acts in town during the holidays: Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. I was sure there were other important holidays in the African-American community besides Kwanzaa, but I never studied them.
Until now. For those who, like me, were curious, wonder no more! The Anacostia Community Museum has an exhibit up called "Jubilee," and if the name isn't enough to tempt you to go there, consider this: the exhibit traces a year of important African-American holidays. What's more fun than a fest?
Some of the holidays in "Jubilee," like New Year's, are universal. During slavery, African-Americans referred to New Year's Day as "Heartbreak Day," because that was the day that slaves who'd been sold were separated from their friends and families. When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year's Day, 1863, he turned this tragic tradition into a day of real thanksgiving.
Other holidays, like Junkanoo, don't exist anywhere else. On Christmas Day in the 18th century, North Carolina party-goers donned elaborate costumes stitched from rags. They went on multi-day parades through the streets, singing and dancing. Junkaroo still happens in the Caribbean, but it's been out of style in the United States since the 1890s.
If you're still interested in Kwanzaa, Jubilee has a display about that day, too. Invented in 1966, Kwanzaa incorporates east African end-of-harvest traditions. On each of the seven nights, revelers ponder a philosophical and moral principle: unity, self-determination and faith are examples.
Take part in "Jubilee" yourself! The exhibit is up until September 20, 2009 at the Anacostia Community Museum. I recommend driving there: it's not very Metro-accessible, but the museum and the neighborhood are lovely.