This is my time of the year. December, being the month in which I was born, is also the Christmas holiday, a celebration of the birth of the holy child by the name of Jesus. Also during this time, winter solstice takes place. As a result, my life has always been surrounded by winter rituals.
Since I can remember, being reared at St. James A.M.E. in Newark, New Jersey, Sunday was a day I dreaded and loved at the same time. Dreaded because it was the weekend and as a school boy, this was one of the days that I was supposed to get some rest.
On the other hand, I loved the day because once I got up, I took part in family and church customs that defined my spiritual center. For me, I learned the whole idea of prayer during this Sunday ritual because a year’s worth of Sunday ritual came down to this one day—Christmas—the most important Christian ritual in the year. In most places around the world, if you’re a Christian or not, you are brought into the Christmas traditions.
Sundays and growing up in the Black Church
Sunday was a ritual of singing, praying, and eating. You see, I grew up in a structured household with a Newark junior high school teacher and a Newark ranked police officer. That being said, I had to become highly intelligent to get away with anything. I was either being taught something or interrogated about everything, because I was a very mischievous youth.
So every Sunday morning, I would ignore my mother’s requests for me to get up for the fifth time. However, my dad, the enforcer, would come into my room and say “Duane get up,” in a voice that you knew, even in my half-sleep, I quickly told myself, “I think it’s time to get up now, if you know what’s best for your behind.”
Although my father did not go to church with us, he made sure that I went. My grandfather was the patriarch in my family who I saw pray, but both of these men made sure that I prayed.
Sunday, however, was a day that ingrained the idea of being thankful. I was a church boy involved in the choir and I was an acolyte. It was common for me to be at church multiple days of the week for practice or rehearsal of some sorts or even a night party.
The church in which I grew as a boy to man, St. James AME, was definitely a large community in those days. The church sits on a hill, just on the edge of downtown Newark where there used to be rows and rows of high rise government housing lined up-and-down the street. Because of its commitment to the community, St. James served family’s from the projects to boxing commissioners like Larry Hazard at the time.
My family had multiple generations that grew up in this church. My grandfather and grandmother where ushers and active members participating in a wide variety of positions. I always remember alter call being a time when everyone lined up to go to the altar a pray. As a young kid, it generally was about something physical or just being thankful, but at that age it’s hard to know what to be thankful for.
Fortunately, I did know that I was thankful for the breakfast that I would have following the hours spent at St. James. At the end of church service, we would go to my grandparents house for Sunday breakfast. We used to call it “big breakfast” because that’s what it was.
My grandfather was a southern cook. Men of the south during that era knew their way around the kitchen. I’m talking grits, cheese-eggs, melted cheese, biscuits, ham, bacon, gravy and probably a host of other things but that’s what was on my plate.
I remember two instances that gave me a true understanding of prayer and they occurred around the same time. The first I will mention is of a fellow choir boy named Kieth. He was about two years older than me and was shot and killed while helping his older brother move. I just remember hearing that he got shot in the stomach and died while the whole church prayed for him.
The next event is when my grandfather died. This was the first major loss of my life, the man who I’d watch pray all those years in church was no longer here. Now, I was praying for him. Prayer changed for me at that moment because I knew then what to pray for and what to be thankful for, Life.
The holy births
My birthday is thirteen days before Christmas, so my celebration was always merged with the holiday. Since I received one gift for both holidays, my attachment to this holiday was always twofold. To me, Christmas was also my birthday, and on Christmas Eve, church service was the best celebration of the year.
I just loved to sing the song, “O Holy Night,” by candle light with the lights off, it was magical. One year, I was given the lead to sing my favorite song in the choir. Even though I used to be often be nervous if i had to sing a leading role, lifting my voice for Christmas brought on a feeling of enlightenment.
At 13-years-old, my parents let me decide how involved I wanted to be inside the church. Naturally, for me, came to a screeching halt. I still went on Sunday’s, but my other duties fell to the wayside. However, by this time, the spirit vibrated within me. The wave already left for shore. While, St. James AME was the place that taught me how to pray to a man or an idea that is celebrated as “being born” or birthed on December 25, it was the spiritual significance of this man that has sent me on a lifetime journey in many ways to understand this holiday.
The most wonderful and magical time of the year
I am willing to bet that the month of December has more people praying around the world than any other month. Majority of the prayer I would say is for basic needs with the rest being for materialistic wants. Whatever the case, we have made Christmas eve and going into Christmas, a magical time, whether you believe in Jesus the Christ or not. Because of human beings, the intentions broadcasting some type of love and gratitude for family, the energy is high and pure.
As a kid, I had some Muslim neighbors around the corner from me. I remember that even my muslim friends’ family, still incorporated some aspects of ritual during this holiday.
Christmas Eve’s chanting of, “O holy night,” will always bring memories of prayer, family, life, love, and hope that the new day, New Year, or new life will bring more blessings. Since my early years, I left the church and its ideas of Christmas, for a more holistic approach that works for my spirit.
With the winter solstice being seen between December 21-22 and representing the longest night of the year. One could see comparisons to the darkest hour, judgement, struggle, and cold, in which intense prayer would be warranted. Then you have the following days initiating more light, heartfelt gratitude, joy, and happiness. Or, the gift of life for just making it past the longest night and grateful for longer days to come.
St. James A.M.E taught me the art of prayer that in my later years, has manifested into thoughtful intention and meditation. During this holiday, may your intentions be heartfelt and giving the best gift of all. LOVE. For the winter Solstice is the most HOLY OF NIGHTS.
Ark Republic is ending the year with a series of mixed-media stories of hope, empowerment, leadership, courage, brilliance family and affirmation. We want to enter into the New Year with a community collaboration called, “The Light Series.”
The Light Series is a month-long exploration of all things light and love. So, we invite you to walk with us. Even, we ask that you participate in highlighting those in your community who need some shine, or even yourself, your business or your superpower.
Our first week, December 1 to December 7, we will feature stories of innovators in our communities. Next, from December 8 to December 15, we share stories of inspiration from our entrepreneurs. Afterwards, from December 16 to December 25, we explore spiritual, religious and family traditions, as well as, winter rituals. Finally, from December 26 to January 1, we will end the series with stories of affirmation and forward movement in this next cycle, 2020.
If you would like to submit a personal essay, article, video, poem/spoken word or other media presentation of your work, just provide basic information and answer at least five of the questions. Once finished, send your answers and a high resolution picture(s) to the following: [email protected].
Ark Republic is an independent media company that provides a platform for free-thinking folk to tell stories as complex and colorful as possible. We need your help to keep the wheels churning and the stories flowing. Please become and member or donate to an organization dedicated to giving you stories that keep you informed.