Howard Magazine - Page 54 - Winter Traditions By John-John Williams IV - Howard Magazine

Howard Magazine
- Page 54
Winter Traditions By John-John Williams IV - Howard Magazine

Forty-one years ago, Gerry Maxwell- Jones wanted to bring more meaning to her family during the winter holidays.


She turned to Kwanzaa, a weeklong celebration of African-American culture. “I thought it was a more Afrocentric way of looking at the holiday,” says the 72-year-old Columbia resident, a retired Howard County School System employee. “Christmas had kind of lost its religious meaning.”


Three years later, she converted to Buddhism. “I moved here because of Jim Rouse’s vision for ethnic and cultural diversity. To be able to practice Buddhism in this community, with people all over the place, is really a pleasure.”


Maxwell-Jones says she never felt uncomfortable celebrating a holiday other than Christmas in Howard County.


“There were so many religions here in Howard County,” she explains. “I didn’t feel that I could not. Religion is a personal preference. And my friends and my family were accepting of it.”


She’s not alone in feeling safe to celebrate other religious and cultural holidays.


The Rev. Paige Getty, senior minister at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, is not surprised by the number of different faiths practiced within Howard County.


“Columbia, in particular, was founded with a vision of intentional diversity of race, ethnicity, religion and socio-economic status,” says Getty, who is also co-chair of PATH (People Acting Together in Howard), a multiracial, multifaith, nonpartisan, citizens’ organization that develops community leaders. “We are really deliberate about acknowledging and celebrating those differences. It goes beyond mere tolerance and acceptance.


We interviewed four residents who celebrate the winter holidays in different ways, religious or cultural.


Maxwell-Jones’ favorites: Kuumba (creativity), Imani (faith) and Umoja (unity).


She started celebrating year-round by incorporating the principles of the holiday into everyday life. She also started throwing a celebration the day after Kwanzaa begins instead of celebrating each night of the holiday.


Traditions: Maxwell-Jones, her two sons and their families light all the candles on the Kinara at the same time during their Kwanzaa celebration, rather than lighting one each night. During the celebration, they have a showcase where each attendee is allowed to share a talent of some type. They also pick a principle out of a bowl and read how it manifests in their lives throughout the year. They share new goals and say whether or not they completed their goals from the previous year. Handmade gifts are also exchanged. Maxwell-Jones also sets up a craft table for guests to be able to make gifts.


Foods: Maxwell-Jones serves a groundnut stew made with peanut butter, onions, celery and seasoned chicken and served over rice, with collard greens, green beans or broccoli (the color green represents wealth in African American culture, she says). She also serves plantains, cornbread and a rum cake.


Sharing Hindu celebrations


Because the Hindu faith has no holiday during the month of December, many Hindus in Howard County celebrate Christmas, according to Ellicott City resident Gopi Suri.


But in November, they observe Diwali, a five-day celebration of lights. “It’s a celebration of good over evil,” Suri says.