Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Happy Kwanzaa 2023!


In my current professional role, in the spirit of promoting inclusion, I share with my organization nostalgic information celebrating holidays across diverse communities. This is what I shared for Kwanzaa. Enjoy!

Kwanzaa is an annual celebration honoring African-American culture and heritage culminating in a communal feast, usually on December 31, the sixth day of Kwanzaa. The annual celebration of festivities is from December 26 to January 1. 

The holiday was created by Maulana Karenga following the Watts riots in 1966, which is also the year of the first celebration of Kwanzaa. Mr. Karenga, a noted figure in the historic Black Power movement during the 60’s and 70’s, based the holiday on the spirit of African harvest festival traditions from various parts of West and Southeast Africa. In response to criticism by some Christians that the day was intended to replace Christmas, he defined Kwanzaa as “a cultural holiday with inherent spiritual qualities celebrating African American and Pan-African history, values, family, community, and culture”, not a religious holiday intended to replace Christmas. Today, many African American families celebrate Kwanzaa along with Christmas and the New Year.

There are seven principles of Kwanzaa, each representing an idea or concept expressed in Swahili, one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa. The greeting for each day of Kwanzaa is Habari Gani?, which is Swahili for "How are you?"  Mr. Karenga derived the name Kwanzaa from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning "first fruits". First fruits festivals exist in Southern Africa and are celebrated in December/January with the southern solstice. It was decided to spell the holiday's name with an additional "a" so that it would have a symbolic seven letters in accordance with the seven principles.

During Kwanzaa, families display seven candles in a kinara, a seven candle candlestick holder. The red, black, and green candles are placed in strategic order. The black candle in the middle represents unity, the three green candles are placed to the right and represent earth, and the three red candles are placed to the left and represent the struggle of African Americans’ shedding of blood in struggles for freedom, civil rights, representation, and equality in America.

The kinara is placed on a mat, the Mkeka, on which other symbols are placed, the unity cup commemorating and giving thanks to African Ancestors, crops to include corn, representing the children, and gifts. On each night, one candle is lit to observe the nguzo saba, the seven principles of Kwanzaa which are as follow: 

1.    Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

2.    Kujichagulia (Self-determination): To define and name ourselves, as well as to create and speak for ourselves.

3.    Ujima (Collective work and responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems and to solve them together.

4.    Ujamaa (Cooperative economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

5.    Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

6.    Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

7.    Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Kwanzaa ceremonies are hosted privately with family and friends and by the larger community for all to gather and participate. Many participants decorate their homes in African art, artifacts and displays of Kente cloth, which is also used for dress for many who dress in traditional African attire for the holiday season. Ceremonies may include African drumming, exhibitions of African art, African dance, songs poetry, and African storytelling, affirmation of pledges, libation to the Ancestors, and lots and lots of traditional African or soul food.

Children are purposely included in Kwanzaa ceremonies to teach them to value, give respect and gratitude to and for their ancestors. It is a special time for friends and family to gather and give thanks, exchange gifts, and share feasts. Traditionally, gifts to be exchanged during Kwanzaa were to be handmade, not commercially purchased. Over the years, however, it has become commonplace that gifts are deliberately purchased from or produced by vendors of African descent. 

In 1997, United States Post Office issued the first stamp commemorating the holiday. In that same year, President Bill Clinton gave the first presidential declaration marking the holiday. Several presidents have since acknowledged the holiday.

Kwanzaa is a very festive and joyous time for cultural and historical reflection by African American and Pan African communities worldwide. Kwanzaa is also celebrated in the United Kingdom, Jamaica, France, Canada, Brazil, and certain provinces in Canada. Festivities culminate with a large feast on December 31, the sixth day of Kwanzaa.

Thank you for reading this information compiled from various souces. Please share with someone else who may not know and be sure to check your local social media or newspaper listings for a Kwanzaa celebration near you!

Happy Kwanzaa 2023!

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful description of Kwanzaa, Helen.