What is Kwanzaa? Now you know!

Image: BeWytch Me

Image: BeWytch Me

What Is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is a celebration running from December through January 1st.  The celebration was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966, is a unique African American and Pan-African holiday.  Kwanzaa is related to many celebrations of the first harvest.  The name Kwanzaa comes from Swahili “matunda ya kwanza” which translates to English as “first fruits”.

Kwanzaa is a time for five fundamental activities in the African-American culture:

  • To reestablish interpersonal bonds

  • To express reverence to the creator

  • To commemorate and honor ancestors

  • To commit to following cultural ideals

  • To celebrate life, family, community and culture

This celebration recognizes 7 principles of African culture:

  • Umoja (unity): To work towards unity with others whether family members or members of a larger community.

  • Kujichagulia (self-determination): To define oneself and find one’s unique voice in the world

  • Ujima (collective work and responsibility): To cooperate in community building and problem solving

  • Ujamaa (cooperation): To build and sustain business from which the community as a whole profits

  • Nia (purpose): To collectively strive towards cultural unity based on tradition

  • Kuumba (creativity): To use our creativity to improve our community

  • Imani (faith): To believe in each other, our leaders, and the righteousness of our struggle

Children receive gifts of books and heritage symbols during Kwanzaa.  The gift of the book represents the value of learning which has been recognized since ancient Egypt.  The symbol gift is to remind the child of their traditions.

The colors of Kwanzaa are – red, green and black.  A “mkeka” or mat is laid out on a table and decorated with 7 candles each representing the 7 principals. Similar to Hanukkah, each candle is lit on each day of Kwanzaa. The mkeka is made up of ears of corn, a kikombe cha omoja (a unity cup) for pouring in spirits for those ancestors who have passed before us.  It’s also decorated with beautiful art objects and books which represent the best African culture has to offer.

The final day of Kwanzaa is spent reflecting quietly in contemplation and maintaining a humble attitude towards others.  Kwanzaa is a time to ask three questions:

  • Who am I?

  • Am I really who I say I am?

  • Am I all I ought to be?

The answers to these questions can bring about a renewed commitment to show the world the best we can be and to honor the time honored African cultural traditions.  Kwanzaa is not a religious based celebration but instead is a tribute to ancient cultural values and traditions.

Happy Kwanzaa to you and yours.

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