As a child, I always wondered why we didn't have African American holidays. Since then I have learned that our ancestor in slavery observed the holidays of their masters but in their own way. This became a time to unite with family and communicate with each other. They also used this as a time to sell and exchange goods in order to better their circumstances. In spite of oppressive conditions, holidays became an incubator for the creation of African American culture in music, song, dance and storytelling. Their spirit of resistance and resilience allowed them to survive in spite of slavery.
Today we recognize and celebrate many special days that have been part of African American History, and the number keeps growing. Here is a calendar of Holidays and Days of Remembrance that we can share with family and children this year. Please share with us how you celebrate African American culture and any holidays you think should be added to the list.
January 1 Watch Night! The Watch Night Services in African American communities can be traced back to gatherings on December 31, 1862. On that night, Blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation, anxiously awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had become law. When the news was received, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as people fell to their knees and thanked God. Today many Black churches still commemorate that day as a day of prayer, thanksgiving and spiritual liberation.
January 1 Signing of the Emancipation Proclamation commemorates January 1, 1863 when Abraham Lincoln signed the document that freed slaves in confederate states.
January 15 Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday - MLK was born January 15, 1929. His birthday is celebrated as a national holiday the third Monday of January. Now it has become a special day of service where everyone is encouraged to volunteer in their community.
February 1-28 African American History Month - was started by Carter Woodson in 1926 as Negro History Month, and then expanded to the whole month.
February 4 Rosa Parks Birthday
February 28 Mardi Gras - "Fat Tuesday," is the last day of the Carnival season and always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Celebrated with parties, concerts and parades.
May 19 Malcolm X Birthday
May 29 Memorial Day celebrated the last Monday of May has its origins in 1865 when former slaves in South Carolina wanted to honor Union Soldiers
June 19 Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863.
June 4 Pinkster celebrated the seventh Sunday after Easter refers to the Dutch festivals held by African Americans (both free and slave) in the Northeastern United States, particularly in the early 19th century. For the African slaves, Pinkster was a time free from work and a chance to gather and catch up with family and friends. Today this holiday is celebrated at Philipsburg Manor
381 N. Broadway, Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591. Festivities include lively presentations of drumming and traditional dance, African folktales, and demonstrations of traditional African instruments and utilitarian wares.
August 28 March on Washington was held on August 28, 1963 where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, a landmark of the Civil Rights Movement.
December 26- January 1 Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration held in the United States and in other nations of the Western African diaspora in the Americas. The celebration honors African heritage and African-American culture, and is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a feast and gift-giving. Kwanzaa has seven core principles (Nguzo Saba).