WHAT YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT KWANZAA
Kwanzaa, an African-American holiday, is celebrated every year towards the end of December. But for those unaware, what is this holiday and what does it mean to the African-American community?
I remember as a kid hearing about Kwanzaa and began to see it being celebrated in school. Over the years and as I obtained a higher learning, I would hear it being dismissed as a “man-made holiday” often by its own people. This article isn’t about turning non believers into believers, rather to raise an awareness about the holiday. For those curious about what Kwanzaa is, look no further. All questions will be answered and addressing why it is so important for the African-American Community.
Kwanzaa was started in 1966 by its founder Maulana Karenga. The holiday was launched during the Black Power movement and followed a year after the Watts riots. Karenga served time in prison in relation to an assault case related to the opposition of the Black Panther movement. After being released from prison, Karenga became a African-studies professor at California State University at Long Beach.
Karenga started Kwanzaa as ”a necessary minimum set of principles by which Black people must live in order to begin to rescue and reconstruct our history and lives.” The holiday is celebrated from Dec. 26th to Jan. 1st every year. There’s no exact number on how many American celebrate the holiday, but it’s estimated within the millions. Another little known fact is that it is not a “religious” holiday.
Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday based on the African harvest festivals. The word Kwanzaa is based on the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza (“first fruits”). Not only is the holiday popular amongst African-Americans, but by the black Caribbean culture as well.
The celebration of Kwanzaa revolves around the number 7. There are seven principles of Kwanzaa for seven days. The order of principles are as follows: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. In addition, there are seven symbols: fruits/nuts/vegetables, place mats, ears of corn, candles, candle holders, communal cups and gifts. Each day, members of the household get together to discuss the principle along with poems, song, or dance.
By the 1990′s Kwanzaa was recognized by the mainstream as a national holiday. Along with Christmas and Hanukkah, millions of Americans were celebrating the holiday and had received its first official stamp by the U.S. Postal Service. The Kwanzaa stamp was introduced in 1997 and reissued in different variations four times.
Unlike Christmas, gift giving is not the central purpose of the holiday. Although the seventh symbol of Kwanzaa is “gifts”, it often occurs within the family and includes hand-made gifts which celebrate the African culture. In addition, each day of Kwanzaa participants greet each other with the phrase Habari gani, which means “What’s the news?” in Swahili. The answer would be the principle of the day.
The official colors of Kwanzaa are red, symbolizing the struggles of the African people; black, symbolizing Earth and the African people; and green, symbolizing hope and the future. Kwanzaa candles are arranged in a holder, with a black candle in the middle and red and green ones on the sides. One candle is lit each day of Kwanzaa.
African-American leader and poet Maya Angelou narrated a documentary called The Black Candle which was the first full length film that was made about the holiday. The film featured rapper Chuck D, Kwanzaa founder Maulana Karenga, former NFL star/actor Jim Brown, and was directed by M.K. Asante Jr.
Today the spirit of Kwanzaa is celebrated each year by millions of Americans and African descendants from across the world. Though many my question its origin, its purpose remains fulfilling. The goal is to maintain black empowerment, raise awareness, and celebrate the history of the African-American culture.
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