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Stateside With RosaleaThe Seven Barbies of Kwanzaa

Stateside With Rosalea: The Seven Barbies of Kwanzaa

But first, a little ditty:

We three magi of Babylon are Fed up with Romans who rule from afar Gave Herod a tumour By starting a rumour Regime change would follow a star

Clearly I watch too many PBS documentaries, like the one on the 'Mystery of the Three Kings' that aired this week. But the weather's been badder'n a blister on a postie's foot at Christmas, so what's a girl to do but venture gingerly back into TV-land despite knowing full well the dangers... whole parade grounds of poinsettias bred only to be sacrificed and die on some tacky studio set, and reporters earnestly wondering if shopping mall retail sales will be up this year.

The festive season is not all bad, of course. For one thing it's... well, festive! They don't string coloured lights across the streets here, but people light up their houses like Christmas trees, and huge public Christmas trees are a matter of civic pride. The one in Union Square in San Francisco was lit up a couple of weeks ago on the same day as the huge menorah standing next to it, which is part of the 8-day Jewish Festival of Lights or Hanukkah.

For followers of Islam, Ramadan ended around about that same time so there were Eid celebrations in family homes and public parks at the end of the first week of December. And the African-American festival of Kwanzaa will be celebrated from December 26 to January 1. The dear old US Postal Service issued eight stamps for the holiday season - one for each of the four festivals I've just mentioned, plus a set of four different snowmen for those who subscribe to none of the above. You can see the stamps on-line at

On Saturday, a group of Aztec Indian dancers celebrated winter solstice in downtown San Jose, and the Julia Morgan Theater in Berkeley had a solstice-inspired Celtic Peace celebration on Sunday evening. Not to mention, of course, all the Christmas events, from rock concerts supporting the Marines' "Toys for Tots" gift drive, to special church services, to parties for underprivileged kids put on by everyone from the Salvation Army to the local fire brigade.

But it is Kwanzaa that has caught my attention this year. It was first observed in 1966 and is the creation of Maulana Karenga, a black-studies professor at California State University at Long Beach. As a nonreligious celebration of family and community, it is patterned after African harvest festivals. It has a similarity with Hanukkah in that each evening for seven days family members gather to light one of the seven candles on the kinara, a candelabra.

However, the candles of the kinara - unlike those on the eight-branched menorah - don't represent a miracle or a victory over political enemies, but seven principles by which life should be lived: unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. On the eighth day, December 31, community members gather for a feast called the karamu. (Flash, eh!)

This year, for the first time, one Bay Area shopping mall used Kwanzaa as its theme instead of a general holiday or Christmas theme. Early in the month, in Oakland and San Jose, weekend markets were held featuring African American businesses marketing goods and services related to the seven principles. More than 15 million people in the US observe Kwanzaa, and with gift-giving often taking place on each of the seven nights, it's a pretty huge opportunity for small businesses to reach a market.

Of course, it may be only a matter of time before Mattel comes out with the Seven Barbies of Kwanzaa, but maybe that would be a good thing for us all. Imagine: Unity Barbie, with playmates of all races and creeds; Self-determination Barbie, with a voicebox refusing handouts of money and antidepressants (which one state is now routinely giving to long-term unemployed); Collective Responsibility Barbie, bearing a placard saying "Not in my Name"; Cooperative Economics Barbie, making micro loans from her tarpaper shack; Purposeful Barbie, which could be a whole range in itself - personally I'd go for the election system change model; and Faith Barbie, who could be armed with a shield saying "Truth", and across whose lips not a lie would pass. Heck, three Faith Barbies have already made it to the cover of 'Time'!

At this time of year it's as well to remember that faith isn't something you HAVE or GET; it's something you create every day as an individual in your dealings with people. And it's as malleable as water - sometimes smooth sailing, and sometimes eroding the very foundations of how you relate to the world. And, no, I didn't forget Creativity Barbie. She'd be a scientist, a Magellan of time instead of space, proving that time is not a flat line - on which you mark battles and injustices, to be remembered and revived over and over again - but a sphere containing all time, all at once, so tiny it encapsulates the present and moves on before our meathead brains can experience it.

Oh well, it's something to mull along with the wine. (I swear no wacky backy was harmed in the making of this column.)

Happy holidays everyone!

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