Kwanzaa is an African American celebration of culture, community, family and life, lasting for seven days, from December 26 – January 1. Kwanzaa was introduced as a holiday in 1966 following the Watts riots by Dr Karenga, professor and now chairman of black studies at California State University at Long Beach. The holiday is based around various African harvest celebrations and was created with the intention to bring African American’s together as a community. “We want to give blacks an alternative to the existing holiday of Christmas and give blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.”-Karenga
The celebration of Kwanzaa spans 7 nights and incorporates 7 tenants, one tenant being the focal point of each night. Apart from the 7 tenants, the Kwanzaa holiday also includes storytelling, poetry reading, songs, dance as well as a large traditional meal called ‘Karamu’, which takes place on December 31st.
The seven tenants of principles of Kwanzaa are as follows…
Unity: Umoja – To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
Self-Determination: Kujichagulia – To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
Collective Work and Responsibility: Ujima – To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems out problems and to solve them together.
Cooperative Economics: Ujamaa – To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Purpose: Nia – To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Creativity: Kuumba – 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.
Faith: Imani – To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
During each night of Kwanzaa there is a candle lighting ceremony, providing the opportunity to gather and discuss the meaning of the Holiday. The name of the traditional candle holder is the ‘kinara’. On the first night, the center candle is lit and the principle of Unity/Umoja is discussed. Each night following, another candle is lit and another one of the principles/tenants of Kwanzaa is discussed by the family.
On the final day of Kwanzaa, ‘Zawadi’, or the giving of gifts is celebrated. Gifts are exchanged with members of the family to reward accomplishments and commitments kept and to encourage growth and self-determination. The creation of handmade gifts is also encouraged to promote creativity and to avoid conspicuous consumption. Accepting a gift makes the receiver a part of the family and also promotes the previously stated idea of ‘Umoja’, to strive and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
Please look to the links below to learn more about this Holiday.
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