- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2003

There are almost as many reasons to be blue this season as there are reasons to be cheerful. Families are missing loved ones who have gone on to glory on high and those who are stationed in Iraq orelsewhere aroundthe globe.Some among us are depressed because we followedthe beaten pathways to the mall and overspent our budgets, while others lifted up our spirits by visiting houses of worship, where we bowed our heads and sang praise songs for what was, what is and what shall be.

Even when Christmas Day itself has passed, we often grow even more stressed, wondering what the new year will bring. There are no guarantees, no matter how hard we try to predetermine the cause and effect of our actions. We all know that, yet we still try to find the “perfect” gift for that “imperfect” special someone — essentially setting ourselves up for possible disappointment.

Over the next week or so, we will focus even more on what shall be — on tomorrow, in the future. We ponder all things political — including presidential elections, the war on terror and the economy — and all things personal — our children who are going away to college, whether the roof will hold on ‘til spring.

The worries often seem relentless because expectations are so incredibly high — fantasies of the Norman Rockwell Christmas. Life’s simpler pleasures seem elusive.

While we cannot convince Father Time to turn back the hands of the clock, millions of Americans can enjoy a relatively young tradition — at least young by American standards — called Kwanzaa, a Swahili word that means first fruits. Celebrating Kwanzaa is like celebrating a harvest. A nonreligious week of celebrations, Kwanzaa was established in 1966 by a man named Maulana Karenga, a college professor at Cal State Long Beach.

Its purpose is to remind all of us, whatever your faith and whatever your ethnicity, to revere history, family, values and community. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa represents a specific principle. For example, the principle of the first day, Dec. 26, is unity, so participants are encouraged to seek and maintain unity, not just of family, but of the community and the nation. On subsequent days, such principles as collective responsibility and creativity, as well as others, are highlighted. Then, on New Year’s Day, we are asked to believe in the righteousness of humanity to overcome — our personal and collective struggles.

Those are not Mr. Karenga’s words verbatim. But Kwanzaa does not represent holy days; it is open for interpretation. Many adherents use each day during Kwanzaa to simply reflect (on family history, for example) and meditate (to prepare for clarity and peace in the coming year).

To be sure, the business industry continues to be the main beneficiary of all tangible things great and small regarding Kwanzaa — from the red, black and green taper candles to the seven-branched candelabra (called a kinara) that holds them. But this time of year is not about the dictates of the marketplace. It is about rejoicing in His birth, and when we stray too far from the reason for this season, we stumble.

A recent study found that one-third of adults will have a blue Christmas. That number will likely be larger because so many of us have loved ones in the military and far away from home. And while we often color our own Christmases blue, the government has colored it orange with the high security alert.

We cannot ignore the signs of these troubled times, but we can use prayer, nonreligious activities like Kwanzaa and meditation to disengage ourselves from the hurried pace of the holidays.

We can imagine ourselves in a cool and restful place.

We can be thankful for the struggles of our ancestors, and pray for peace and happiness.

We can bow our heads and praise Him in words, song and deeds, and be thankful for what was, what is and what shall be.

Happy New Year.

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