History of Kwanzaa

The history of Kwanzaa shows that this recently invented holiday observance is deeply rooted in traditional African culture. Although the first Kwanzaa celebration took place in 1966, it has since spread worldwide to African descendants living in many different countries. It originated in the United States, which is home to the largest number of Kwanzaa participants. An estimated 18 million people celebrate the holiday every year.

A Focus on African Culture: Kwanzaa is a non-religious holiday that draws on elements from different African cultures and honors the unique African American experience. The celebration lasts for seven days, between December 26 and January 1. According to the founder of the holiday, professor Ron Karenga, the time where one year is ending and another is beginning is sacred to African people.

The history of Kwanzaa is rooted in the Pan-African movement that was popular during the 1960s, a movement dedicated to uniting those of African descent around the world. Kwanzaa celebrations draw on many different African traditions. The name "Kwanzaa" comes from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza," which means "first fruits." The symbolism and rituals of the Kwanzaa celebration are based on African harvest celebration.

The Harvest: Since Kwanzaa is a harvest celebration, much of the symbolism has to do with food. Crops and ears of corn are two of the seven symbols used in the celebration. In addition to these two there is also a mat, a unity cup, a candle holder, seven candles and gifts. The gifts are normally for the children and consist of items to help them celebrate their heritage.

Kwanzaa Today: The purpose of the holiday has changed slightly through the history of Kwanzaa. When it was originally conceived, it was established as an alternative to religious holidays. Today, the focus has shifted somewhat, and families celebrate Christmas along with Kwanzaa as part of an overall holiday celebration. In 1997, Karenga states that Kwanzaa was open to all people who wished to celebrate the principles of the holiday, whether or not they were black. The emphasis is still on the history of African people, but the celebration has widened to include all people who want to observe the passing of the year with a remembrance of the important principles.

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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.

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