Happy Birthday to all!!

"December Birthdays"

Photos starting from the top left:  Jim getting ready to blow out the flaming inferno that was the candles on the cake in 2002.  Jim and Warren celebrating together at a surprise party in Idlewild about 1990.  The cousins around the table to celebrate Cousin Warren’s (wearing the lai) birthday about 1958.  That is me at the far end of the table.  On the bottom row we have another table full of cousins (children of those in the previous photo) celebrating the combined party of Jim and Warren.  Jim successfully blowing out all those candles.  Last photo is Jim last year opening his gifts.

When I was growing up my cousin Warren celebrated his birthday with a family party after Christmas on December 30.  There we cousins are on the upper right getting ready to eat cake.  There was always punch, cake, ice cream and chips.  Maybe hot dogs?  Plus balloons and birthday presents.  Being close to Christmas didn’t seem to impact his birthday.  My sister Pearl’s birthday is December 7, which doesn’t seem that close to Christmas.  We didn’t do parties but had a cake and she received presents just like I did for my august birthday.

My husband, Jim, comes from a family with 12 children.  Three of them were born very close to Christmas.  Milton was born on Christmas Eve, Catherine was born on Christmas day and my husband was born on December 30.  He says everybody always had a birthday cake and nobody every got many birthday gifts so that wasn’t different.  Over the years we’ve been together his birthday has become an important part of the Christmas celebratory season.  We have cake, gifts, dinner, a gathering.  Now that the children are grown, some with children of their own and most of us are in the same city we gather for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Jim’s Birthday, New Years Eve and New Years day.  By January we are ready for a break!

Yay for Fruitcake!

Me mixing up a batch of fruitcakes in 2009

I didn’t grow up around fruitcake making but there was always some around.  I liked the dark kind not the light, blah type.  I have been making fruitcake for years now.  Sometimes I don’t get it in the mail in time and we end up eating fruitcake through the winter and into spring.  You can see from the large bottle of rum that I not only soak it in spirits but add some in the mixing.  People have already been requesting cakes so I should get started.  Last year I started in November.  This year I’m spending so much time doing posts on Christmas memories that I am not making them this year.  Or maybe the memory will be 2010 – the year I did blog posts.

Advent Calendar – December 11 – Kwanzaa

"Atlanta Kwanzaa Table"
The Kwanzaa table, minus the fruits and vegetables and plus a globe – 2009

When I was elementary school age our neighborhood was majority Jewish.  We never celebrated the Jewish holidays but we learned about them.  I remember singing the dreidel song in school and learning about the menorah.  I didn’t realize Kwanzaa was in the “another tradition” category until today, so here is my late offering.  Once again I bring you a reprint from Ruff Draft 1991.  We didn’t celebrate it when I was growing up since it didn’t begin until the late 1960’s.  Our children grew up celebrating either at home or in community celebrations.


By Ayanna Williams

Kwanzaa is a Black holiday started in the U.S.A. in the 1960s.

This year on the last day of Kwanzaa, which was New Years Day, we had a big to-do and invited Henry over.  We dressed up.  Tulani and I in sarongs.  That is material draped around your body and hung over your shoulder.  James and Cabral wore baggy pants and African print shirts.  Jilo and Ife, who were home on winter break, wore long skirts.  All the girls but Jilo, wore geles (head wraps).  Jilo didn’t want to cover her dreadlocks.

When Henry got there we were downstairs in our regular clothes so we ran upstairs and after much losing of skirts and falling off of wraps, we finally went down.  As we went Tulani played the drum, James used the shakare, Cabral strummed the ukelele and I had to use two blocks.  We chanted “Kwanzaa, First Fruits!” as we came. We giggled a little as we went through the kitchen.  Black eye peas, sweet potatoes and rice were simmering on the stove for us to eat directly after the ritual.  When we got to the living room, all the lights were off except one.  By that light we, in turn, read the seven principles in Swahili and their meanings in English.  The introduction was read by Daddy.  Nia/Purpose was read by Henry. Umoja/Unity was read by Tulani.  Kujichagulia/Self determination was read by Ayanna, Ujima/Collective Work and Responsibility by James.  Ujamaa/Cooperative economics by Ife, Kuumba/Creativity by Mommy for Cabral and Imani/Faith by Jilo.

Then we read the meanings explained in plain English that Jilo had written.  After we read the principles and lit all seven candles, Jilo read a story she had written about Kwanzaa with all of the principles included.  We then ushered everybody into the dining room while chanting the principles and their meanings.  Well, that was the plan, but nobody but us kids knew so the adults just sat there and watched us.  So we finally just got up and told them to come to the table.

After dinner Henry told tales about when he was a kid and about his uncles and cousins.  Some how the conversation went from reminiscing to the state of the world today. He and Jilo had quite a discussion that lasted for hours.  At the end Henry went home and we all went to bed.

Anna Remembers Santa Claus

"Grandmother Cleage's Christmas"
Christmas 1968 at my Grandmother Cleage’s house in Detroit.

I remember Santa from my childhood but it wasn’t an important part and I don’t have any memorable memories.  My cousin Anna did though and here is one of hers from our family newsletter, the Ruff Draft 1991.  In the photograph above Maria is the child on the left and Anna is the child on the right.  Their father, Winslow is behind them at the door smiling in profile.

Christmas Memory

Anna  writes, My memories aren’t all that clear, but there is one that shines bright in my mind.  It was one Christmas Eve, when Maria and I were about six and eight years old.  We had just tucked ourselves into bed for the night.  Suddenly we heard a tinkling, jingling sound.  We both looked at each other with mouths open wide and eyes sparkling with excitement.  We knew it was Santa for sure. We scrambled out of bed and raced for the steps.  We got to the landing, almost tumbling down the stairs in our haste, and there he was…NOT Santa Claus, but DADDY!  There he was, grinning from ear to ear, holding a glass, hitting it gently with a silver spoon.  If we had had our pillows we would have pelted Dad right there, but instead we just laughed hilariously.  It was and still is a great memory.

Christmas Cookies

"Jim and Kylett make cookies."
Granpa making cookies with Kylett.
"Hasina and Abeo"
Hasina and abeo examining Christmas cookies by Ife.

Christmas Cookies

I am so behind in my Christmas calendar posts but today I realized I do have something to say about most of those I skipped so I am going on a posting binge today .

I do not remember making Christmas cookies when I was growing up.  When my children were growing up they would often bake cookies to give to the extended family for gifts and to eat, of course.

My grandchildren have joined this tradition and last Christmas  cookies were baked and given and eaten.  I expect the same will happen this year.

"Eating Christmas Cookies."
Playing cards, talking and eating cookies Xmas 2009.

Blog Caroling – We Three Kings

"Blog Caroling logo"
We Three Kings

I chose We Three Kings for my contribution to footnoteMaven’s Blog Caroling Event 2010. This carol was written by John Henry Hopkins in 1857 and first preformed in 1863 in New York City.   I liked this version done with hang drums.

We Three Kings 

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.


Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshipping God on high.


Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.


Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Sounds through the earth and skies.


Winter Springfield, Mass – 1949

I’m in the front, my mother is propping up my sister Pearl.  My father took the photo in our yard.  He was the pastor of St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield Massachusetts and we lived in the parsonage/community house right next to the church.  We moved to my parents hometown, Detroit, when I was four where we still had plenty of snow.

These photographs are in a crumpling album that my father put together back in the 1940’s.  He wrote comments on all the photographs. I have to photograph or scan them before they disappear.

Click here to see more sepia saturday posts from around the world.

Buying Gifts for Christmas

"Kris at Old Plank about 1962"
Me at Old Plank in 1962. I was 15. I believe this was several years after the memory.

Another memory from Ruff Draft 1990, this time mine.

I remember the first year I was old enough to try and buy presents for all my relatives.  I must have been about 12 or 13.  I just had my allowance.  I saved up and got presents for several great aunts, seven or eight cousins, parents, a sister, numerous aunts and uncles and my grandparents.   There was a dime store in Milford, Michigan where we used to go when we spent time up at the farm on Old Plank Road.  There I bought several perfume atomizers for the great aunts and a set of wooden alphabet blocks for little Blair and a cast iron trivet with a country snow scene for my mother.  I bought something for everybody.  I don’t know why I didn’t make cookies or something.  I don’t remember how anybody liked their gifts but I worried a lot about if they would or not.

Henry’s Christmas Memory

"Barbara, Hugh and Henry Cleage"
Barbara, Hugh and Henry Cleage

This is another memory from the December 1990 Ruff Draft, a family newsletter we put out for 5 years.  My daughter Ayanna interviewed my Uncle Henry and wrote this from the interview.  The photo was probably taken several years earlier than the memory.  It was taken by the house on Scotten on the old west side of Detroit about 1925.


Henry Cleage remembers when his Aunt Gertrude won a nice new shiny bike.  He just knew she would give it to him for Christmas.  On Christmas Eve he was sitting in the living room with his father after the younger kids had gone to bed.  His father said, “Henry, go over to your Aunt’s and get that bike … for Hugh.”  Henry thought he would never enjoy Christmas again, but that after seeing Hugh so happy with the bike he decided it was all worth it.  Even so he said that Christmas was never the same for him.  It had lost some of the magic.