“We hold on to the promise because it continues to sustain us… and me.”
In this series, Holiday Traditions, we asked clinicians to share their favorite holiday traditions from both past and present. Here’s how they answered.
Throughout my childhood, the holiday season expanded my access to an already healthy extended family. Just 10 blocks separated my maternal grandmother and paternal grandparents. Grandma Sullie’s and Grandpa Bo’s next-door neighbor, neighbors across, up, and down the street were all first-, second-, and third-degree relatives—5 multigenerational households of Kemps living on 1 block.
In preparation for all the holiday festivities, Auntie Pat and I would string lights on the massive fresh Christmas tree and deck the halls with carefully curated seasonal décor. Frequently, church members rotated in and out of the house to assist their beloved first lady, but I called her auntie.
While working, a cousin who was playing outside might walk through the open door calling, “lil Dwight, yo grandma wants you.” Reassuring Auntie Pat that I would return, I walked to the front yard, jumped the side fence, and walked past my dad actively frying the Christmas turkey to see what Grandma Sullie needed.
On Christmas Day, after the streetlights were on, drivers could hardly navigate through the car-lined block. Family—biological and the chosen variety—double and triple parked along the full length of the street. Some were just passing through, while others made arrangements or would end up staying the night—for various reasons. Loved ones and friends ceremoniously went from house to house up and down the street eating and collecting to-go plates. “Baby, how you doing!?! Come on in here. Get you something to eat. We got plenty. Take some with you.”
The best stories were told after meals, with everyone filled to their heart’s content and some bragging about how many plates of food they had eaten. I remember Grandma Sullie reminiscing about life as a young girl: “Linda, you remember when daddy sent us to Miami from Carolina... The man who owned the land told daddy that soon us girls were going to have to go out in the field. Daddy said, ‘Not my girls!’”
Sitting on the floor beside my grandmother in her recliner, I learned of the bravery, courage, and tenacity of my great grandfather: a South Carolinian sharecropper in the 1950s who saved his family from the throes of forced labor. I learned so many things, including how my grandparents turned love into 58 years of marriage that all began in Miami, Florida, in the rooming house that Great Grandpa Kemp owned.
The holiday season concluded with family trips to church for Watchnight Service. We ushered in the New Year. The spirit high. The tears flowing—grateful and full of faith. We hold on to the promise because it continues to sustain us… and me.
Dr Kemp is a post-doctoral clinical fellow at Columbia University.