It’s that time of year again; while many are caught up in the hullabaloo around Christmas, some are also celebrating Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a week long celebration of African culture and heritage observed from December 26 – January 1st of every year.
Kwanzaa has been celebrated since 1966 when Maryland born, professor of African Studies, Maulana Karenga created it as the first African American holiday. Kwanzaa was intended as a means to aide African Americans in connecting to African cultural and heritage. During the wee klong Kwanzaa celebration, African American across the U.S. study African traditions and Nguzo Saba, the “seven principles of African Heritage.”
Karenga used the East African language of Swahili to promote Kwanzaa as a Pan African celebration. The name Kwanzaa itself is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili.
Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the Nguzo Saba
- Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define and name ourselves, as well as to create and speak for ourselves.
- 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.
- 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 vocation the building and developing of our community 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, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
- 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.
Kwanza is commonly a family celebration with women covered in k beautifully patterned kente cloths. Homage is paid to ancestors, drums are played, there is joy and an air of gratitude all around. There may be a reading of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness. African history and culture is discussed, candle lighting is done and on the last day, a feast.
Some of the symbols used in the celebration of Kwanzaa are a mat (Mkeka), a candle holder (Kinara), seven candles (Mishumaa Saba) and unity cup or Kikombe cha Umoja.
Each night of Kwanzaa, the family gathers around the candle holder and light a candle as they discuss the principles of Kwanzaa. The first night the black center candle is lit and the family discusses umoja. Each subsequent night a different principle is discussed as candles are lit.
There is so much to learn and explore about Kwanzaa. Check out the official Kwanzaa website http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/index.shtml