Pre-COVID, a number of Black families would come together, say grace, “break bread,” catch up on the latest gossip, watch football and swap stories from back in the day. In 2020, we all had a modified version of Thanksgiving due to social distancing restrictions, but some were determined not to break tradition. (Courtesy Photos)

By Nicole Batey
Special to the AFRO

Two soulful celebrations in the Black community are Thanksgiving and Kwanzaa. Food, family and fellowship are focal points of the festivities. 

As Blacks, we take our food seriously, especially when it comes to the holidays. Preparation for Thanksgiving usually begins weeks in advance with phone calls to family members about who’s bringing what and making lists of what ingredients are needed for the big day. Turkey, ham, collard greens, sweet potatoes or yams, stuffing (or dressing as it’s called depending on where you’re from), mac and cheese, string beans (not the casserole), rolls or biscuits, apple pie, sweet potato pie (not pumpkin), cakes and other desserts are just a few of the staples most likely to show up on the dinner table. Vegetarian options might also make an appearance at the table. 

Our food is just as expressive and colorful as we are and the bigger the family, the larger the spread.

(AFRO Archives)

I recall in my own family, how we’d have several tables set up just for the food. The main table which featured all the star dishes, included turkey, ham and brisket; the second table had more side dishes like potato salad, seafood salad and cranberry sauce. Then the infamous card table, which had all the delectable desserts. Visitors learned quickly that at our house, you get the dessert first because it might not be there later.

Pre-COVID, a number of Black families would come together, say grace, “break bread,” catch up on the latest gossip, watch football and swap stories from back in the day. In 2020, it felt strange just having Thanksgiving with my mother, father, son, younger brother and his crew. Not like the 40 or more family and friends we were used to. It was still important to my mom, though, to have most of the food we normally served on Thanksgiving, even though it was just us. She said she didn’t want to break tradition. So other family members still made their dishes, put them in containers that we picked up for dinner. When it was time to eat, we FaceTimed a few relatives to join in the meal from a distance. It was important to us to still be able to connect as a family over food.

(AFRO Archives)

Kwanzaa is another celebration in which Black families celebrate their African heritage and culture from December 26 to January 1. While food is an integral part of celebrating each day of Kwanzaa, the largest meal typically takes place on the sixth night called Karamu Ya Imani (feast of faith). This feast usually includes dishes from the African diaspora. Accord to The Root, the main elements of Kwanzaa are:

  • Mkeka: Mat
  • The Mkeka is the base of your Kwanzaa table. The foundation. Historically, it is a raffia or straw woven mat with an earthy vibe.
  • Kinara: Candleholder
    The centerpiece of your Kwanzaa table is your kinara, candleholder.
  • Mishumaa Saba: The Seven Candles (three red, one black, and three green)
  • Kikombe cha Umoja: Unity Cup
  • Mazao: Harvest
  • This is represented by fruits or vegetables on your Kwanzaa table.
  • Muhindi: The Corn
  • Dried ears of corn that represent children or abundance. Traditionally, you have one ear for each child in the house, plus one additional ear.
  • Zawadi: Gifts
  • Ideally, these are handmade, educational and purchased from a black-owned business.

Food is an integral part of both Thanksgiving and Kwanzaa. The meals served are expressions of our heritage and lineage. Some recipes are passed down from generation to generation, as a reminder of those who may no longer be with us, and to carry on traditions that help tell our story.