Kwanzaa

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Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa celebration with its founder, Maulana Karenga, and others
Observed by African Americans
Type Cultural and ethnic
Significance Celebrates Black heritage, unity and culture.
Date December 26 until January 1
Celebrations Unity
Self-Determination
Collective Work and Responsibility
Cooperative Economics
Purpose
Creativity
Faith
Related to Black History Month

Kwanzaa is a week long celebration held in the United States to honor universal African heritage and culture. People light a kinara (candle holder with seven candles)[1] and give each other gifts. It takes place from December 26 to January 1 every year. It was created by Maulana Karenga and was first celebrated in 1966 - 1967. Non-African Americans also celebrate Kwanzaa.[2] The holiday greeting is "Joyous Kwanzaa".[3][4][5]

History and naming of the holiday[change | edit source]

Kwanzaa is a celebration that started in the black nationalist movement of the 1960s. It was created as a way to help African Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage.

The name Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning first fruits of the harvest.[6]

During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga said that it was meant to be an alternative to Christmas, that Jesus was psychotic, and that Christianity was a white religion that black people should shun.[7] However, as Kwanzaa became more popular, Karenga changed his position so that practicing Christians could also feel included. He stated in the 1997 Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday."[8]

Many Christian African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa do so in addition to observing Christmas.[9]

Principles and symbols[change | edit source]

A woman lights kinara candles on a table decorated with Kwanzaa symbols

Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba—the seven principles of blackness). Karenga said that this "is a communitarian African philosophy," . It consists of what Karenga called "the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world." These seven principles comprise Kawaida, a Swahili term for tradition and reason. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles, as follows:

  • Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together. To make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  • Nia (Purpose): To make our collective goal the building and developing of our community. This in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  • Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can. This so that we can leave our community more beautiful and better than we inherited it.
  • Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Kwanzaa symbols include a decorative mat on which other symbols are placed, corn and other crops, a candle holder with seven candles, called a kinara, a communal cup for pouring libations, gifts, a poster of the seven principles, and a black, red, and green flag. The symbols were designed to convey the seven principles.[10]

During Kwanzaa, families also decorate their households with objects of art. They use colorful African cloth such as kente, especially the wearing of kaftans by women. Fresh fruits that represent African idealism are also used. It is normal to include children in Kwanzaa ceremonies and to give respect and gratitude to ancestors. Libations are shared, generally with a common chalice (a shared cup), Kikombe cha Umoja, passed around to all people present. A Kwanzaa ceremony may include drumming and musical selections, libations, a reading of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness, reflection on the Pan-African colors, a discussion of the African principle of the day or a chapter in African history, a candle-lighting ritual, artistic performance, and, finally, a feast (Karamu). The greeting for each day of Kwanzaa is Habari Gani?[11] which is Swahili for "What's the News?"[12]

Cultural exhibitions include the Spirit of Kwanzaa, an annual celebration held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts featuring interpretive dance, African dance, song and poetry.[13][14]

Related pages[change | edit source]

Further reading[change | edit source]

  • A program to raise the faith level in African-American children through Scripture, Kwanzaa principles, and culture, Janette Elizabeth Chandler Kotey, DMin, Oral Roberts University,1999
  • The US Organization: African American cultural nationalism in the era of Black Power, 1965 to the 1970s, Scot D. Brown, PhD, Cornell University, 1999
  • Rituals of race, ceremonies of culture: Kwanzaa and the making of a Black Power holiday in the United States,1966—2000, Keith Alexander Mayes, PhD, Princeton University, 2002
  • Interview: Kwanzaa creator Ron Karenga discusses the evolution of the holiday and its meaning in 2004, conducted by Tony Cox. Tavis Smiley (NPR), 26 December 2003
  • Tolerance in the News: Kwanzaa: A threat to Christmas? By Camille Jackson | Staff Writer, Tolerance.org, 22 December 2005

References[change | edit source]

  1. ""Why Kwanzaa Video"". "Ron Karenga". http://www.africanholocaust.net/news_ah/kwanzaa.html.
  2. Keith Mayes, cited by Megan K. Scott, "Kwanzaa celebrations continue, but boom is over", Buffalo News, 17 December 2009. Accessed 25 December 2009.
  3. Bush, George W. (2004-12-23). "Presidential Kwanzaa Message, 2004". Office of the Press Secretary. http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2004/12/20041223-2.html. Retrieved 2007-12-24.
  4. "Clinton offers holiday messages". CNN. 1997-12-23. http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1997/12/23/message/. Retrieved 2007-12-24.
  5. Gale, Elaine (1998-12-26). "Appeal of Kwanzaa continues to grow; holidays: today marks start of the seven-day celebration of African culture, which began in Watts 32 years ago and is now observed by millions.". Los Angeles Times. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/latimes/access/37610058.html?dids=37610058:37610058&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Dec+26%2C+1998&author=ELAINE+GALE&pub=Los+Angeles+Times&desc=Appeal+of+Kwanzaa+Continues+to+Grow%3B+Holidays%3A+Today+marks+start+of+the+seven-day+celebration+of+African+culture%2C+which+began+in+Watts+32+years+ago+and+is+now+observed+by+millions.&pqatl=google. Retrieved 2007-12-24.
  6. Megan K. Scott, "Kwanzaa celebrations continue, but boom is over", Buffalo News, 17 December 2009. Accessed 25 December 2009.
  7. Karenga, Maulana (1967). "Religion". In Clyde Halisi, James Mtume. The quotable Karenga. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press. pp. 25. 23769.8. http://www.piratepundit.com/karenga6.html.
  8. J. Lawrence Scholer, "The story of Kwanzaa", Dartmouth Review, 15 January 2001.
  9. Williams, Lena (1990-12-20). "In Blacks' Homes, the Christmas and Kwanzaa Spirits Meet". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/12/20/garden/in-blacks-homes-the-christmas-and-kwanzaa-spirits-meet.html?pagewanted=1. Retrieved 2010-05-07.
  10. "The Symbols of Kwanzaa". http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/symbols.shtml. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
  11. Kwanzaa Greeting
  12. A Model Kwanzaa Ceremony
  13. The Spirit of Kwanzaa
  14. The Dance Institute of Washington

Other websites[change | edit source]

References[change | edit source]