It is fortuitous that the Christmas season falls just before the observance of Kwanzaa because it allows for the celebration of the spiritual followed by the secular and, combined, they offer the best opportunity every year to ponder on things holy and things cultural.

The question is whether the opportunity is used as intended and whether people emerge from the season strengthened in their faith and in their identity.

The answer is: not enough.

Christmas marks the birth anniversary of Jesus and it is a time to reflect on what that has meant to humankind for more than two millennia. But the reason for the season has long been compromised, turned into mainly a time for crass commercialism. The ringing of church bells has to compete with the ringing of cash registers and scenes of the Nativity have to compete for space with “Christmas” trees. The moneychangers, whom Jesus drove out, vie for a place in the celebration and the holy day has been turned into an occasion for saving the national economy.

None of that, however, should prevent the faithful from being of good cheer for the star of Bethlehem will always outshine the glow of lucre and those who take comfort from the ultimate sacrifice of Christ will know they are guided along the path of righteousness.

But this is also the season for another kind of rejoicing: the celebration of the peculiarly African-American festival of Kwanzaa. Even as faith is reinforced
by the knowledge of the true meaning of Christmas, so are cultural identity and familial bonds strengthened through the observance of the “first fruits” festival that Dr. Ron Karenga established in 1966 to call the people back to the principles of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Kwanzaa is only now gradually spreading across the African-American nation and only in sporadic fashion. But more people are taking it seriously and those who do will find this secular cultural underpinning an ideal way to end the season marking Christ’s birth.