By Guest Blogger JamillahNeeairah Nasir “Mama J”

There are some things I’ve always enjoyed about the holidays. I still love watching corny holiday movies on the Hallmark channel while I’m making Kwanzaa gifts for my family and friends. I never tire of seeing beautifully decorated Christmas trees or laughing at the houses that do way too much every year. I’ll swap cookie recipes and listen to your new year’s resolutions without ever reminding you that you never keep them. 

But this is the first year I’ll be spending Kwanzaa without my children, who are all newly grown and living independently productive lives, so it feels incredibly unfamiliar and somewhat scary. Thankfully, I’m still celebrating Kwanzaa with my community and visiting with my crew of friends—some of whom have also become newly untethered from their traditional ways of celebrating the season.

My friend, Maryam (not her real name), recently separated from her husband of fifteen-plus years, leaving her to explain to their young children why they will spend Christmas Eve with their father and Christmas Day with her from now on. Last week, I spoke with a neighbor who lost her mother earlier this year. She’s been dreading the holidays because her mother always made the season feel special for her and her siblings; she has no idea how she will get through it without crying every day. A young college student I mentor has the holiday blues because she’s away from family for the first time–and because she’s so busy with school and working two jobs, she hasn’t made significant connections with her peers. So she will be alone in a new city for the holidays. 

When the composition of your family life shifts—and it will, for any number of reasons, you can creatively re-imagine what the holidays will look like going forward. Which is why Kuumba has become my favorite of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Kuumba means creativity, and that’s what my friends and I have used to make sense of the shift.

For example, since their father died seven years ago, my friend, Kevin, plays pickup basketball with his brothers on Umoja, the first day of Kwanzaa as a way to celebrate and honor their connection with their father, who loved the game. My friends, Kat and Joycelyn, take their young daughters to volunteer at a soup kitchen to honor the commitment to service instilled in them by their mothers–who had also been lifelong friends before their passing. And, as for me, this year I decided to join in all the reindeer games, just because I can! I sing every Christmas song that comes on the radio–loudly and off-key. I’ve refused to pass up any sample stations at the mall–although that decision caused me to smell rather unsavory and gain more than my usual “seasonal seven” pounds. I’m still perfecting my plans, but since  it’s a new season, I can celebrate however I choose–and that feels pretty great!

With just a little creativity, the holidays can become an incredible catalyst for creating new customs that won’t leave you or your family feeling hollow. 


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