Category Archives: Advent Calendar

Celebrating Kwanzaa

"Kwanzaa Table"

The Kwanzaa Table

When I was elementary school age our neighborhood was majority Jewish for several years.  We never celebrated the Jewish holidays but we learned about them.  I remember singing the dreidel song in school and learning about the menorah.


We have celebrated Kwanzaa in various ways over the years.  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.  At one point we didn’t celebrate Christmas, only Kwanzaa but after the kids started school we gradually added Christmas back into the celebrations.


By Ayanna Williams

Kwanzaa is an African American 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.

Ready for a Christmas Party?

We didn’t have Christmas parties.  We didn’t have any parties of the kind where you invite people over to socialize. We did gather on holidays and for birthdays but those were family affairs.  However, I did come up with this photograph of my sister Pearl all dressed up for some sort of formal party. We can see it’s Christmas because of the card display on the mantel.  It was the winter of 1966. I wonder what my mother is talking to her about. She looks rather dressed up too. I still have that chair and it’s mate. Today is Pearl’s birthday so I thought it was appropriate to post this photo on several levels. Perhaps Pearl will see this and remember what party she was going to.

My sister wrote this to me about the picture:
“I think this was actually my prom dress. I bought it at Christmas to catch a sale cuz I don’t think the prom was until later. but I do remember this was a pink dress and I LOVED it.”

Gladys remembers Christmas

"Cleage Tree"
Christmas tree at Gammie’s house.

Another Christmas memory from the Ruff Draft
December 1991 Issue,  compiled by AyannaWilliams

Gladys Evans remembers when she used to take her family over to her mother, “Gammie’s” house.  Her brother Louis was like Santa Claus.  He didn’t put on the suit, but with all the presents, his attire was not noticed.  There would be a roomful of presents.  No one was allowed in.  They would have to wait, to build the suspense, until Louis was ready. Then they would all open their presents.  They would be just the thing for that person, not a last minute thing picked up on the way home.  Gladys said she always wondered if they had left anything in the room.  As soon as possible, after the hub-bub, she would go check out the room.  There was never anything forgotten.

After Gammie died, Gladys said, her family (now grown with their own children) would have two or three Christmases,  one at their respective homes, one with Gladys and I do believe she said they would visit Louis and Hugh also.

"Jim and Warren Birthday Party"
Looks like Jilo and Louis are having the kind of discussion where you both talk at once.  Gladys is stepping over the dog.

I don’t remember these gift laden Christmas mornings because my mother, my sister and I went to my maternal grandmother’s house first.  By the time we got to Gammie’s house it would be evening and the excitement had died down.  I don’t remember anything I got for Christmas then, but I do remember one of Louis later Christmas gifts.  It was the Christmas of 1991.  My family and Louis, Gladys and Hugh were all living in Idlewild.  My cousin Jan and her family came up Christmas day from Windsor, Canada.  There were a dozen kids, seven or so adults and a friendly rotweiller gathered at Louis, Gladys and Hugh’s house.  There weren’t a lot of gifts.  Louis wasn’t able to go out and shop anymore.  He looked around the house and came up with presents. I don’t remember what he gave everybody but I do remember the puzzle he gave us.  We still have it 20 years later.  I keep it out on the coffee table with the other puzzles and the grandchildren often dump it out with the intention of putting it back together but few actually can do it without spending a lot of time figuring where the pieces go.  It always reminds me of Louis and I’m sure I mentioned more then once that it was a Christmas gift from him.

Missing Christmas Carols 1944

"Missing Home at Christmas Collage"

Christmas 1944 was my parents second Christmas together. My father, Albert B. Cleage Jr (Toddy) had taken a year off from the ministry to take classes in film making at UCLA.  He planned to use it later in the church.  My mother, Doris Graham, was working as a social worker and apparently taking a class too.  They were living in Los Angeles, Ca, missing Detroit and their families. In the montage we have in the top/center my mother, below her is my father.  The house my mother grew up in is the big photo of the house on Theodore, below is their Los Angeles apt.  The last photo is my mother’s parents Mershell (Poppy) and Fannie (Nannie) Graham.  This is a letter my mother wrote home Dec. 17, 1944.


December 17, 1944

Dear Folks,


Just a line to let you know we’re ok.  Hope you all are well

It’s almost midnight and we are both (as usual) trying to get some school work done that we left until the last minute.  Toddy has a paper due – and I have a book report.

Here it is – almost Christmas, but it doesn’t seem like it at all.  No snow – no cold weather – no nothing.  People out here don’t even sing Christmas carols on radio church services or anything.  We heard you all have lots of snow.  Well – guess I’d better go back to my book.  

Merry Christmas

and a Happy New Year.

Toddy + Doris

Related Posts

Christmas Day 1944 – Part 1
Christmas Day 1944 – Part 2
Christmas Day 1944 – Part 3

Memory from Christmas 1967

"Pearl and Kris Christmas 1968"
Christmas 1968. L to R My sister Pearl, me, Nanny in the window.

I can’t find a picture from Christmas 1967 but I think we looked pretty much the same.   I bought that pea jacket at the army surplus in Santa Barbara when I was there for a student conference, summer of 1967.  I cut my hair that summer too, right after the Detroit riot.  Not sure if Pearl had cut hers yet in 1967.  I have looked at this photo many times but this was the first time I noticed my grandmother looking out of the window at us.  We had moved to the flat with my grandparents that fall, so it’s a different house, but it’s Christmas time and I look the same.   I had just graduated from Wayne State University with a major in Drawing and Printmaking and a minor in English.   On January 2, I caught the Greyhound to San Fransisco.  But that’s not today’s memory.  Here is something I wrote in 1967.

Christmas 1967

It was Christmas and cold.  Snow blew wet, sticking to my coat and hair.  We went to the shortest corner, down Northfield, past three Junior High girls laughing and cars sliding slow on the ice.  The sky was gray behind bare branches.  Snow fell quiet, without any wind.  My sister and I talked some about…I can’t even remember.  We crossed to Pattengill Elementary, went down past the school and stopped outside the empty play field.

I got out my new movie camera and told her to walk away, down toward Colfax, and not to act silly.  She started and I turned on the camera,  feeling silly myself, taking pictures like a country bumpkin in the city.  She started lunging to one side, sort of a half skip with some serious drag to it.  I told her to be serious.  She did, then walked back.  I tried to keep the camera from moving.  It stuck and I turned it off  twice with a heavy click, jarring, blurring the picture.

We went inside the playground.  I shot some more of her walking up and away.  A little boy was sledging down a driveway into the street.  She said, come on take some behind the trash cans.  It’ll be good.  I shot some more.  Discovered while she was behind the garbage cans I was out of film.

Both of us bent over the camera and tried to shut it off, but we couldn’t.  My hands were cold.  Red, wet and cold.  I put on my gloves and we unscrewed the battery door with her suitcase key to shut it off.

We walked back toward the far corner.  I wrote BLACK POWER in the snow, and then PATRIA O MUERTE and VENCEREMOS.  Pearl asked what else can we write but I didn’t know.  We went on out of the playground and down Epworth talking about how bad somebody can be to you and you still love them.  We went on down Allendale.  There was a dog sleeping on a porch.  Pearl said, loud, keep on sleeping!  And he did.

It was getting dark and still snowing.  Cold, wet, quiet snow.  Grey like the inside of a shell and quiet like when your ears are stuffed up from a cold.  Some girls went by across the street, talking loud.  We turned back down Ironwood and went home.

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!