Open sesame: At the intersection of faith and hope…

20191231_145437-1Hello Blog readers!

Happy New Year!!  As I look ahead to what 2020 will bring,  I am more and more excited for the arrival of my picture book, The Great Holiday Cookie Fight, which will be published on October 15 of this year.

Of course, New Year’s Day is also the final day of Kwanzaa, which runs from Dec. 26th to January 1st.  The holiday was invented in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga as a way to honor African-American culture, but also to celebrate family and community. Each of the seven days represents a different principle: unity, self-determination, collective work & responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. That means New Year’s Day is not only a worldwide celebration of new beginnings, but also a day, as Karenga wrote, “To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

Now I am white and would not presume to fully understand the struggles of people of color in America, but I like to think we can all be more sensitive at this time of year and that includes learning a little about the myriad of celebrations which unite us more than they divide us.* We can all use a little more faith and belief in our parents, teachers and leaders: a little more hope for the year to come.

My trusty Kitchen-Aid mixer, “Beauty,” whipping up a batch of benne wafers.

With that in mind, I have chosen to bake benne wafers this year in celebration of the intersection of Kwanzaa’s day of faith and of New Year’s Day.  Benne is the Bantu word for sesame, which symbolizes good luck in many cultures and is a symbol of immortality for the Brahmins– perfect for New Year’s.  Benne wafers themselves are African in origin and particularly popular in Charleston, South Carolina, where I lived for four years while teaching at the College of Charleston. The cookies are nutty, buttery, and not too sweet, a lovely antidote to the overindulging you may have done in the past week.



You can find recipes for benne wafers online, or just wait for the extra special recipe in my book, coming this year! May you move into 2020 with hope and faith in a beautiful future for the year to come!  Harambee!

A warm batch of benne wafers ready to bring to a New Year’s Brunch tomorrow!
*To paraphrase Akilah Bolden-Monifa in his article “Can White People Celebrate Kwanzaa And Other Questions You Were Too Afraid To Ask,” white people CAN celebrate Kwanzaa because American culture is becoming more multi-racial and diverse. He goes on to write, “When invited, I go to cultural and religious celebrations that are not part of my cultural or religious heritage. I participate in a way that is comfortable for my host and for me. It would be arrogant of me, a non-Jew, to dominate a Seder or Hanukkah celebration, for example. People who are not of African descent should approach Kwanzaa with the same attitude.  A proverb often quoted during Kwanzaa reads: “I am because we are; because we are, I am.” Harambee! (Let’s pull together!)