Candomblé & Christmas
Often when people learn about African religions, their curiosity pushes them to answer questions that they have about the religions with which they’re already familiar. Who is God? Where’s the holy book? Which day of the week is sacred for worship and praise? When are the holidays?
Each branch of Orixá religion (Regional Nigerian, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, etc) has holy days and seasons that correlate with the realities of the environment. In the Caribbean and South America, many Orixá feast days/seasons occur around feast days of specific Catholic saints that share similarities with the Orixá.
But what about holidays in other religious traditions that Candomblecistas may have enjoyed before finding Orixá? In the eyes of Candomblé, there’s nothing “written” that would bar someone from practicing a tradition from another religion, because it doesn’t interfere with Candomblé. One such tradition is Christmas.
Family is extremely important in Candomblé. Many people are used to saying, “I didn’t choose my family,” but in Candomblé we absolutely believe we did. Our belief in Ori teaches us that before being born, we knelt before God and chose our destiny; that would include having chosen the womb into which our human form would take shape. Even if our families are the cause of extreme pain and unhappiness, there is something that we were put on Earth to learn from the experience. If there are family traditions that are important to you, continue to follow them. The only thing that would be frowned upon is trying to fold that practice into Candomblé – cada um no seu quadrado (maintain each thing in its own space).
Before becoming a Candomblecista, I was Catholic. I loved Advent and the preparations leading up to Christmas. I was also fully aware of the controversy of Christmas and its Pagan roots, and evidence pointing to Jesus’ birthday being closer to summer months than in December. My Christmas tree had nothing to do with Jesus’ birth. As a Catholic, I recognized that each day of the year was a day to celebrate the birth of Christ (much in the same way that as an Iyalorixá every day of the year is a day to celebrate Oxum’s presence in my life). While December 25th is most certainly a feast day, I wasn’t blindly fanatic about it. For me, Christmas had more to do with spreading love, showing appreciation (through food!) and being with family. As an Iyalorixá, Christmas continues to have the same meaning for me.
Putting up my tree every year makes me feel close to my grandmother who died when I was a toddler. Baking cookies reminds me of hours spent in the kitchen with my mother as a child while she baked cookies to give to loved ones. Making collard greens, my staple contribution to family dinners, has become like a ritual to bring prosperity to all who will eat them.
In Candomblé we believe in axé – life force energy that makes the world go ’round. Christmas is a time of axé-overload. In North America, people become uncharacteristically cheerful; people are more likely to be polite and neighborly, more people are wishing good will to one another, there’s a buzz – axé. Celebrating Christmas as a Candomblecista is kinda like taking advantage of that current, the axé. Celebrating Christmas is a celebration of my family, an homage to my ancestors, a salute to my culture.
If I had been raised in a different landscape, I’d like to believe that I would’ve still found my way to Orixá, that I’d be taking advantage of the bubbling axé around whatever high feasts are celebrated in that space. In this carnation, the landscape is North America and the high feast is Christmas. This Christmas season, may the Orixá dance in your house and bless your family. Axé!