Celebrating pride in heritage and cultural unity, Kwanzaa is a fast-growing holiday celebrated by African-Americans. This seven-day celebration begins on December 26th and ends on January 1st. Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday; rather, Kwanzaa traditions give African-Americans a chance to incorporate customs of cultural reaffirmation into other celebrations.
Furthermore, Kwanzaa did not begin in Africa. Maulana Karenga, a scholar and social activist living in California, created Kwanzaa in 1966. Karenga felt that African-Americans needed a time to celebrate their unique history and heritage and to promote unity within communities.
The word "Kwanzaa" comes from "matunda ya kwanza," which is a Swahili term for "first fruits." The extra "a" in "kwanzaa" came about during an early Kwanzaa celebration in which seven children each wanted to represent a letter in the word, and an extra "a" was added to "kwanza" to make sure all the children were included.
Seven Principles of Kwanzaa
The purpose of celebrating Kwanzaa is to reinforce positive values within the community. The best community thoughts, practices and values are promoted and celebrated during this seven-day holiday. Each of the seven days focuses on one of the principles:
Collectively, these principles are known as Nguzo Saba, or the Seven Principles. It is customary to incorporate these Swahili words into Kwanzaa greetings that show a desire to commit to the principles.
Decorating for Kwanzaa
The symbolic objects for Kwanzaa are mostly based on African harvest motifs.
Kwanzaa's colors are black, red and green and are also rich in symbolism. Black is for people, red represents their struggles and green stands for a hope-filled future. People celebrating Kwanzaa can also decorate with colored flags, African cloth, baskets or other cultural art objects.
To start off the celebration of Kwanzaa, the symbols of the holiday must be displayed. Celebrants choose a prominent place in the home to set up the mat, with all other symbols arranged on it. The seven days of Kwanzaa are full of different activities, such as lighting candles, meditation, respecting ancestors, celebrating African traditions and finishing up with gifts and a feast.
Gifts are generally given to the children of the family and, according to tradition, must consist of at least one book and an African cultural item. The idea is to emphasize learning as well as appreciation for their heritage.
Kwanzaa and Other Holidays
For many African-Americans today, Kwanzaa is the chance to celebrate their ethnic heritage, share the common ground of a Pan-African culture and rededicate themselves to improvement.
Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday and is not intended to be a substitute for Christmas. Kwanzaa celebrates African culture and is therefore similar to Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo and other cultural holidays.
Folks are always asking me about Kwanzaa, so here are a few thoughts for each day of this winter holiday.
As Kwanzaa become more popular, a debate arose as to whether or not people can truly embrace both Kwanzaa and Christmas. While the correct answer lies within the heart and mind of the individual, it's worth taking a look at the arguments surrounding the controversy.
For the seven nights from December 26th to the 31st, the Kwanzaa celebration commemorates African roots, honors the ancestors and looks to the future in the spirit of unity, dignity and hope.