African-American holiday traditions ‘From the Slave Quarters to Kwanzaa’

By Dorothy Paige-Turner
Educator and performing artist

Of all the holidays celebrated in America, Christmas is perhaps the most sacred and the most enduring among African-Americans. First celebrated by enslaved Africans, the holiday has evolved through generations who have embraced Christianity as a means of survival and have envisioned the birth of Christ as a new beginning.” — Bettye Collier Thomas

Scenes from Classic African-American Plays — A Reader’s Theatre Series, began in February 2014 at JustGoods Fair Trade Store on the second Mondays of each month through June, made possible by a grant from the Rockford Area Arts Council. It resumed in October and is now sponsored by the Rockford Urban Ministries. The series involves local performing artists sharing monologues and scenes by well- and lesser-known playwrights from plays that address the depths of the human condition and spirit both dramatically and comically. It continues through May 2015.

Monday, Dec. 8, from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m., at JustGoods Listening Room, 201 Seventh St., performing artists will share stories of Christmas and “Big Times” that span the period from enslavement to freedom to the celebration of the non-religious holiday, Kwanzaa. Some of the stories include “Christmas in the Big House; Christmas in the Quarters” by Parricia and Frederick McKissack, “How Come Christmas,” a skit by Charliemae Rollins; a tender story of two sharecropping families — one black, one white — by John Henry Faulk; an adapted Christmas folk tale of Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox; a beautiful story of Hanukkah and Christmas shared between an elderly African-American man and a 9-year-old Jewish boy by Michael Rosen; a delightful retelling of “Twas the Night B’fo Christmas” by Melodie Rosales; a very powerful story of “The Black Snowman” whose message teaches a young boy to believe; and concluding with a Kwanzaa celebration. Music will include spirituals and songs that help to extend the story’s message; poetry and a slave dance called “pattin’ the juba” will be interspersed throughout the scenes and stories. This will be a unique learning and entertaining experience for all who attend. Admission is FREE; donations are accepted. Among the 10 very talented actors participating are: George Davis, Jenniel Wright, David Causey, Rebecca James, Richard Meeks, Clemmie Durr, Brent Ward, Ashley Haley, Elbert James. The presentation is written, coordinated and directed by Dorothy Paige-Turner.

To quote from the poet Maya Angelou regarding this time of year: “All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices to celebrate the promise of PEACE!”

From the Dec. 3-9, 2014, issue

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