What is Kwanzaa?


Today is the first day of Kwanzaa.  “Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday which celebrates family, community, and culture.”(1)  Kwanzaa is not a religious tradition.  Kwanzaa starts on December 26th and ends on January 1st.  “It was created in 1966 by Dr. Mualana Karenga, professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach.”(2)  While in elementary school I learned of this tradition from teachers, however, I did not fully participate in the celebration of Kwanzaa until I met the man who later became my husband.

My father-in-law worked to instill the importance of African culture and traditions within his sons.  After attending my first Kwanzaa celebration, I better understood it’s purpose.  Prior to this time I thought celebrating Kwanzaa meant that I could not celebrate Christmas but soon learned that was a false idea.  Kwanzaa is about uplifting and acknowledging heritage.

Kwanzaa focuses on seven principles for each of the seven days.  “Day one is ujoma/unity; day two is kujichagulia/self-determination; day three is ujima/collective work and responsibility; day four is ujamaa/cooperative economics; day five is nia/purpose; day six is kuumba/creativity; day seven is imani/faith.  In addition to the seven principles there are seven basic symbols and two supplemental ones.  The seven basic symbols are mazao/crops; mkeka/mat; kinara/candle holder; muhindi/corn; mishumaa saba/seven candles; kikombe cha umoja/unity cup; zawadi/gifts.  And the supplemental symbols are bendera/flag and nguzo saba poster/poster of the seven principles.”(3)

Kwanzaa for me is about focusing on community including family, which is important among African American people.  Due to the primarily horrific nature that many African ancestors came to North American much of our culture was taken away over time.  Some may think that Kwanzaa is against something but it is very much the opposite it is for self pride and love.  Kwanzaa to me means family and gathering to uplift and remember ancestors now gone.  It is about being a part of community not destroying but making better where one lives.

For more extended information about Kwanzaa go to the Official Kwanzaa website.  Also you can read founder Dr. Karenga’s 2017 message here.  I encourage everyone who is African American and those who are not to find a Kwanzaa celebration to attend.  Learning about other cultures allows for a more open and compassionate mind.  Happy Kwanzaa everyone!!!

Source: (1), (2), (3) The Official Kwanzaa Website officialkwanzaawebsite.org

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