The definition of Southern Hospitality

You only know what you know and all I know is how my family celebrated Christmas.  In years past, we have gone to church and then to dinner, in others, we would go to a friend's house and most recently, we would open presents, eat Christmas dinner and gather together on the couch to watch movies. This year was different, as I would spend the holiday with Doug and his family in Florida.  Knowing nothing of how they spent their Christmas or any traditions their family celebrated, I was looking forward to seeing how other families celebrated their holiday.

Doug's family is from South Alabama and truly embrace all of the stereotypes of the Southern culture.  The term, southern hospitality, attributed to Jacob Abbott, came to fruition while he was traveling through the South in the 19th century and defined the Southerners willingness to provide a stranger with food, shelter and entrance to their home as a part of the culture of southern hospitality.  The southern culture focuses heavily on etiquette, such as "yes ma'am/no sir," holding the door open for woman and the removal of hats upon entering a home.  It also focuses largely on cooking, food and eating!

The preparation of food began early on Christmas Day, with the boiling of a fresh ham and putting a roast in the oven.  A female friend came late in the morning to help with the preparation of the meal and brought with her a turkey, deviled eggs and a bundt cake.  From there, the women prepared potatoes, sweet potatoes, sauteed squash, cornbread stuffing, stuffed celery, spinach salad and green bean casserole.  Also on the table, one could find: spiced peaches, different types of pickles, olives, pickled crab apples, cranberry sauce and a various assortment of breads.  And that was just dinner! Dessert included pound cake, rum bundt cake, ice cream, both a chocolate and a caramel layer cake, ambrosia, and two kinds of cookies.

While I have a lot of extra calories to burn, it's warming to the soul to enjoy food that is prepared with love, where eating is an event in and of itself, and most importantly, that I have felt loved and welcomed with open arms into a family, with different traditions and a whole lotta Southern hospitality!

The Questions and Answers behind Kwanzaa

So, I have to admit that while I enjoy all things holiday,  I know nothing of the holiday called Kwanzaa.  I find authenticity in being well-rounded, so I wanted to find out more, skim the surface to uncover who celebrates Kwanzaa, the traditions included and what the holiday means to those who celebrate.

Kwanzaa was created by Ron Karenga and first celebrated December 26, 1966 - January 1, 1967.  Since the first celebration, the holiday has taken place over those same 7 days each year.  Festivities include the lighting of a kinara and ending with a feast and gift giving.  A kinara, a Swahili word for candle holder, holds seven candles and represents the roots that African Americans have in continental Africa.  There are three red on the left representing the African blood shed, three green on the right representing the land of Africa, and a single black candle in the center symbolizing the African race.

Kwanzaa, derived from the Swahili phase "matunda ya kwanza" meaning first fruit of the harvest, was created as the first specifically African American holiday, as a way for African Americans to celebrate their roots and as a way to reconnect with the African culture and history.  Over the course of seven days, seven principles are honored and celebrated. These principles include:

  1. Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race and represented by the black candle.
  2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves and represented by a red candle.
  3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together  and represented by a green candle.
  4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together and represented by a red candle.
  5. Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness and represented by a green candle.
  6. Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it  and represented by a red candle.
  7. Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle and represented by a green candle.

Kwanzaa was originally created as an alternative celebration, denouncing Christmas. However, as the holiday grew in popularity, individuals who celebrate Kwanzaa chose to also celebrate the Christmas holiday.

Merry Mistletoe

With the Christmas holidays only a few short weeks away,  I've been thinking about the different traditions, what they mean and where they came from.  Today, I wanted to explore mistletoe and uncover why when one stands under a spring of mistletoe, they are required to kiss whomever asks for one.  The myth has a few different beginnings and is different in each culture where it is present. 

The Celtic myths believed that mistletoe could heal diseases, protect from witchcraft, and grant fertility to humans and animals. Ceremoniously, it was cut from trees with a golden sickle and not allowed to touch the ground. It was divided into small pieces and hung above the doors of the people to protect them from evil spirits. 

The Vikings believed that mistletoe was used in the death of the god whose mother’s tears brought him back to life. She kissed everyone who passed under a tree containing the plant, declaring that everyone who passed under mistletoe should receive a kiss for his or her protection.  Christianity saw many of these practices as pagan and were abandoned. The Victorians brought the tradition back to solicit a kiss as a sign of love and good luck. In Victorian times, kisses were limited as each berry symbolized one kiss and were plucked off the plant when the kiss was planted. When the berries were gone, there were to be no more kisses to be had!

Whichever tradition YOU believe, it's the love and fun surrounding the Christmas (and holiday) season that is the best.  Be sure your lips are kissable and whatever you do, don't eat the mistletoe berries... they're poisonous! 

Miss-ing Manners

Who, as a little girl, didn't enjoy having tea parties?  Wearing clothes from my dress-up truck and my mom's shoes, I could spend an afternoon pretending that I was a lady enjoying tea, wearing my "fancy" clothes and the company of my friends.  As I got older, the tea parties stopped and only recently have I asked myself why.

The art of a tea party has been lost on my generation, and to be honest, my mom's generation as well.  Gone are the days of a ladies tea parties, replaced by happy hours, cocktail parties and networking receptions.  My grandmother's generation was truly the last to host these timeless events, with proper china cups, dresses and gloves, with a little formality and a lot of beauty.  It was a way to learn about your fellows and exchange recipes, use good manners and refine the art of conversation.

But somewhere along the way, tea cups were replaced by wine glasses, Chamomile for chardonnay and tea pots for beer pints. What was once a time honored tradition, one that had no time limit, was replaced by the ultimate time cruncher, the happy hour.  So, how can we get back to taking a true interest in our friends and really enjoying the finer moments in our day?

Some days, it's as simple as picking up the phone and calling, rather than sending a text message.  On others, it's mailing a handwritten Thank You note, rather than sending an email.  When you're hosting a party, send out a paper invitation rather than the Evite.  And some days, it's truly as simple as drinking morning coffee or an afternoon tea out of a beautiful cup and matching saucer, rather than a mug.  It's using the "special" dishes on a typical Monday night.

While the tradition has been lost on the generation prior and also on mine, I hope that this is a tradition that I can pick-up in my "grown-up" years, relight the torch and pass on as heritage to my daughter.  I like not only the idea of the tea party, but also the historical perspective of a gathering of women. It's time together to share laughter, ideas and memories, but most important of all, it's a time to listen to the stories that each woman brings to the table of their own history.