This year, my father gave me money for Christmas since he seems to have given up all hope of buying me clothes, jewelry, electronics, etc. After I opened the envelope, here is what our conversation was like:
You know you put money in this envelope, right? I wasn’t gon tell you in case it was a mistake but I figured I better be honest with it bein Christmas and all.
Oh, naw, baby, that was a mistake. Gimme that money back.
Ima put it in the mail for you right now. I hope it get to you, cuz you knooooow how the post office be.
That’s pretty typical banter between my father and me, especially since he is becoming more and more like Fred Sanford with each passing year. The banter has ALWAYS been like this, it pops off very quickly, and Christmas was never an exception. The monetary gifts are a new thing but the wit, love, and laughter have been constant.
Many academics who I know will tell me that my nostalgia is romantic or maybe even essentialist. But these people are not usually Black. Or, if they are, I don’t really like or respect them very much (I may as well keep being honest). Whether or not I am romantic or essentialist, I don’t really care about these elitist labels from people who divorce their thinking and intellectual work from everyday, social action and participation in real communities and neighborhoods (college campuses, volunteerism, and nuclear family life are not THAT.) So I am proud to say that I remember the holidays fondly. Material scarcity did not conflict with emotional abundance. After all, it didn’t take any money for my father to grant me my one Christmas wish: to let me hear Kurtis Blow perform my favorite Christmas song, the one that got me in trouble in school because those were the only lyrics I memorized:
Now, of course, I was about 8 years old and really excitable. You have to realize that, for my father, this was quite a sacrifice, because his favorite Christmas song was none other than William Bell’s “Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday” and he kept it on rotation all day long too, to my obvious dismay given my emerging tastes. And I had a lot to say about it too.
Legend has it, according to my father, that my uncle (one of his 7 brothers), could sing this song better than anyone in Alabama. I tend to take that seriously, since my uncles are not ones to give you a compliment when you do NOT deserve it and will, quite forthrightly and loudly, tell you when your skills are lacking.
There were, of course, commercial breaks from my father’s rotation of William Bell’s song. That was when I would hear Charles Brown’s version of “Merry Christmas, Baby.”
Or… there were also times when I could hear my favorite “old-timey song” (as I called it back then) that my 8-year old self was willing to tolerate without loud objection: Diana Ross and the Supremes doing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Me”:
Now let my aunts, my father’s seven sisters, tell it, ALL of them can sing this song better than anyone anywhere. I have heard them sing: I think they are right.
Convinced that Charles Brown was a woman with a scratchy voice, I always loved this line, my all-time-favorite Holiday words: “Well, I haven’t had a drink this mo’nin, but I’m all lit up like a Christmas tree…ooooh.” At eight years old, I had no idea what these words meant but I could recite them. And I could talk a lot of stuff too about all this holiday music that just sounded way too much like what my father was always playing: Motown, Soul, Blues… just…too… much! Like I said, I was young with questionable musical taste. But if you were visiting my house, you would hear William Bell playing all day too. And, before you walked out, you’d be twinkling, all lit up like a Christmas tree, and you might get some banter in between too (once again, I’m just being honest here).
As I closed out my 2012 Winter Solstice observance, I find myself nostalgic and it is a nostalgia of the utmost significance to me: it reminds me that in the midst of the most savage oppression, we can demand and participate in our own humanity. We can laugh and help a little girl inject her generational, Black aesthetic into the groove and we can create an environment that sounds like love even when the rest of the world won’t sound that for us. These days I see these moments as incredibly radical. Maybe that’s why my father liked William Bell’s song so much: maybe the challenge really is to make everyday like a holiday. I’m glad my family gave me a set of memories and dispositions to point me in that alternate direction.