Blog

Heri Za Kwanzaa

December 28, 2018

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

Heri za Kwanzaa means Happy Kwanzaa. Since Kwanzaa began on December 26, and since I know so little about the holiday, I thought that today was the perfect opportunity to learn about it. Also, due to the fact that I know so little about it, I would be happy for anyone to correct anything that I have posted. This post intends simply to touch the surface of the holiday. Furthermore, I am very interested in literature that may include mention of Kwanzaa or other traditions related to Kwanzaa. Feel free to post comments for literature and/or corrections!

Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga founded Kwanzaa in 1966. It is an African-American and pan-African holiday which celebrates community, family, and culture. It begins on December 26 and continues until January 1. The first symbol of Kwanzaa is the mkeka, a placemat which demonstrates African traditions. Kwanzaa is based upon seven principles called the Nguzo Saba. Karenga explains: “As we said in the ‘60s, the Nguzo Saba are a Black value system, a set of communitarian African values which aid us in grounding ourselves righteously and rightly, directing our lives toward good and expansive ends, and toward conceiving and bringing into being the good communities, societies and world we all want and work and struggle so hard to bring into being.” Kwanzaa is celebrated with feasts, music, dance, poetry and narratives. The holiday is concluded with a day of reflection upon the commitments of the seven principles. Karenga continues, “The holiday, then will of necessity, be engaged as an ancient and living cultural tradition which reflects the best of African thought and practice in its reaffirmation of the dignity of the human person in community and culture, the well-being of family and community, the integrity of the environment and our kinship with it, and the rich resource and meaning of a people's culture.” I thought that this sentiment is consistent with the foundations of other religions. I am interested in Kwanzaa’s inclusion of metaphor, symbol, and history. Due to the foundational nature of the seven principles, I have listed them below. I find these ideas consistent with the season.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa include:

Umoja: Unity, the willingness to help one another

Kujichagulia: Self-determination, that we make our own decisions

Ujima: Collective work and responsibility, that working together creates a better life for all

Ujamaa: Cooperative economics, that we support our community

Nia: Purpose, that we have a reason for living

Kuumba: Creativity, that we use our hands and minds to make things

Imani: Faith, that we believe in ourselves, our ancestors, and our future.

All information for this blog is taken from the Official Kwanzaa website.

Whatever your faith, whatever your community, we hope that you celebrate with peace and love. Happy holidays from Harrison Middleton University!

To leave a comment, click on the title of this post and scroll down.

Ringing in the New Year

December 29, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

"Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow; The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true."  - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Music for today's post provided by Trio Mediaeval

I have heard of ringing in the new year. I have also heard of bringing in the new year. I was not sure if they are synonymous, or two separate phrases, but it turns out that both are used and useful.

Bells can signify joy and success, as demonstrated by John Adams in a letter to his wife. He writes, “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.” In other words, the bells give voice to celebration, joy and excitement, the voice of a hard-won fight.

This sentiment is also carried by Walt Whitman in “O Captain, My Captain” which reads, “O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting.” Whitman too seems to combine two sentiments into one. While alluding to the danger of the past, fearful trip, Whitman also embraces the hope of the new. In other words, in this stanza, the bells celebrate a loss while also rejoicing over the future.

The phrase “ringing in the new year” hints at the idea of loss. Long ago, people thought that the sound of bells scared away evil spirits and so they often rang for funerals as well as religious traditions. Long, dark nights of winter encouraged bell ringing, which then ran into holiday celebrations. Finally, the bell ringing merged cultural anxiety with holiday celebration and bells became synonymous with joy and hope. Churches began to ring bells and then the bell became both warning and celebration, a noise that made one take note of life's events.

It turns out that “ringing in the new year” is often confused with “bringing in the new year”. While they both celebrate the new year, they actually refer to different traditions. The phrase “to bring”, according to Merriam-Webster, most likely corresponds to “to disclose or reveal”. In this sense, the new year literally delivers something new, whereas ringing in the new year simply notes the passing of a year. To me, ringing carries more of a physical presence with it – as if the year expired in terms of space and time – whereas bringing introduces something new into the old, like a gift under the tree. Honestly, I can see why both of these analogies fit so well. The passage of time is complicated. It involves space, time, culture and tradition. No matter the phrase you choose, it seems important to take a moment to note that the first minute of 2018 is very different from the last minute of 2017. Therefore, let this be a toast to the new year! Whether you are ringing, bringing or both, may you be blessed with great literature and wonderful conversation.

“The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change.” - Maya Angelou

To post a comment, click on the title of this blog and scroll down.

Holiday Words

December 22, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

I have been busy wrapping presents. But I've also been wondering about some of the language that we casually throw around this time of year. So, in today's post, I am going to compile a couple of terms and tell you what I learned about them. Perhaps the most important word of the season (noticeably missing from this list) is gratitude. I am extremely grateful to the work of Evan Morris of The Word Detective for all of his etymology research and information, as always, couched in a sprig of humor.

Forgive – transitive verb: 1] To cease to feel resentment against (an offender); 2] to give up resentment

The Word Detective offers an excellent synopsis of the first word in our list. He explains:

The root of “forgive” is the Latin word “perdonare,” meaning “to give completely, without reservation.” (That “perdonare” is also the source of our English “pardon.”) When the Latin “perdonare” was adopted into the Germanic ancestor of English, it was translated piece-by-piece, making the result what linguists call a “calque” (from the French “calquer,” to trace or copy) a literal transliteration. “Per” was replaced by “for,” a prefix that in this case means “thoroughly,” and “donare” with “giefan” (“to give”). The result, “forgiefan,” appeared in Old English meaning “to give up, allow” as well as “to give in marriage.” In modern English, “forgive” has also taken on the meanings of “to pardon for an offense,” “renounce anger at” (“I forgive you for feeding bean tacos to my dog “) and “to abandon a claim on” (as in “forgive a debt”).

Deck out – phrasal verb: to decorate a person or object with something, usually for a special occasion.

This is one of my favorites because deck is just a silly and fun metaphor – a ship's deck or a card deck, does not matter. It participates in a lot of phrases, such as (but not limited to): deck the halls, hit the decks, not playing with a full deck, on deck, and stack the deck. Apparently we love our card jokes so much we transfer them to our halls. We could say “decorate the halls”, but that sounds pretty lame. Deck the halls it is!

Carol – noun: 1] an old round dance with singing; 2] a song of joy or mirth; 3] a popular song or ballad of religious joy

Again, The Word Detective wins the game by providing this bit of research:

“Carol” meaning a song or hymn sung at Christmas, has nothing to do with the personal name “Carol,” which is derived from the same Germanic root as “Charles.”

There’s a debate as to the origin of “carol” in the “song” sense, but English definitely adopted it from the Old French “carole,” and the favored theory traces it back to the Latin “choraules,” meaning “flute player who accompanies a choir or dance.” This trail leads back to the Greek “choros,” which also gave us “chorus” and “choir.” This is all very logical and fits in nicely with our modern English use of “carol” to mean a song usually sung by a group.

The original sense of that Old French “carole,” however, was “a dance in a circle accompanied by singing,” which has led to an alternate theory that the root of “carol” is actually the Latin “corolla,” meaning “little crown, garland,” carrying the sense of “ring” or “circle.” In fact, the original use of “carol” when it first appeared in English around 1300 was “a ring-dance accompanied with song.” Our modern sense of “carol” as a Christmas song didn’t appear until the early 16th century.

Tiding – noun: a piece of good news, usually used in the plural “good tidings”

Tide – noun: 1] a fit or opportune time; 2] an ecclesiastical anniversary or festival; 3] a space of time (obsolete)

Tide is a great noun. It is rare to hear tide in a sense disconnected with the sea. Yet, we still have remnants of those ancient roots in phrases such as Yuletide and Good Tidings. Traditions have a funny way of sticking around for a long time. It is particularly helpful to have songs and jingles to spread the language unanimously. Yule comes from an Old Norse word, and if we had the time, I would love to investigate the associations of Jul in Swedish and Norwegian. Since this is about English, however, I'll skip back to the idea of tides and tiding, which stems from Old English, meaning “time or season”. The Word Detective says, “If we wish someone 'good tidings' or hear the phrase 'tidings of great joy,' we are harking back to a related Old Icelandic word meaning 'news or events.'”

I hope this list increases your festive attitude! Happy holidays!

To post a comment, click on the title of this blog and scroll down.

Winter Solstice

December 23, 2016

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

We have just passed the 2016 Winter Solstice. The longest night and coldest temperatures often derive strong images of sadness or death. These are the days of greatest darkness, and yet, for all the dark, we also find hope for the coming of the light. Small cycles often represent much larger cycles, more difficult to coherently map out.

The larger picture includes, among other things, the summer solstice. These two, winter and summer, create a yin/yang balance of light and dark. In most literatures and philosophies, the one is framed by the other. About ten years ago, I found myself in Ecuador, participating in the dances of Inti Raymi. June in Ecuador is part of winter, which brings heavy rains and shorter days. Before the dance, I learned about the concept “tinkuy”, which signifies the coming together of two things. It grants one the ability to hold two opposing things in simultaneous balance. Even the name, Inti Raymi, celebrates the sun during a time of little sun. Summer and winter solstices represent something like a duality, or a yin/yang relationship. They are not oppositional in the sense of opposites, but really, more like a cycle. Dancing with a circular step down dirt streets, singing songs and wearing the colorful dress of Inti Raymi reminds us that it is about being present. This dance represents the continuum of life, in which the darkness is just as necessary as the light.

Many cultures focus on the changing of the light. For these reasons too, solstices often find themselves in literature. I love this stanza from Timothy Steele's “Toward the Winter Solstice”. It develops the ideas of so many civilizations and groups simultaneously, almost as if a performance of tinkuy.

 

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
It’s comforting to look up from this roof
And feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
To recollect that in antiquity
The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
And that, in the Orion Nebula,
From swirling gas, new stars are being born. - Timothy Steele, “Toward the Winter Solstice”

Enjoy your holiday and all the hope that it implies.


To post a comment, click on the title of this blog and scroll down.