The Seven Days of Kwanzaa |
The weeklong festive holiday known as the Kwanzaa takes place from December 26 to New Years Day. When Christmas Day ends, Kwanzaa begins. Kwanzaa was introduced in 1966 to affirm the dignity and heritage of African Americans in the United States. Leah Asmelash explained, “Kwanzaa became popular in the 1980s and 1990s in tandem with the black power movement – making up the winter holiday trio with Hanukkah and Christmas.
Compared to the more familiar long-standing traditional holiday gift seasons related to Hanukkah and Christmas, Kwanzaa is a relatively new celebration. It is smaller and differs from the other two giants on the calendar in that it is a secular holiday. Kwanzaa is not the “black Christmas”. It is also not anti-religious in nature. Many African Americans who observe Kwanzaa are active members of different faith groups. Many of those who worship at Christmas also choose to honor their African roots during Kwanzaa. The reasons for each season are complementary in nature and not conflicting. It is racist and offensive to refer to it as a pagan ritual.
Although the holiday is not religious in nature, it has deep spiritual and cultural significance for those who celebrate it. The holiday was not founded by a religious fanatic, a prophetic movement, or a holy man. It was designed by an Afro-centric scholar who responded attentively to the racial violence surrounding the Los Angeles Watts riots in August 1965. He proposed a non-violent, principled pan-African party he called Kwanzaa.
Professor Maulana Karenga built the Kwanzaa celebratory rituals around the universal appeal of the number seven. We know the Seven Wonders of the World, the triple seven jackpot winner in slots. The book of Revelation speaks of seven seals. The Seven Hills of Rome are legendary. Aligned with this human fascination with the number seven, celebrants can more easily remember the Seven Days, Seven Candles, and Seven Kwanzaa Principles leading up to the feast’s mission. Shenna Foster said of Karenga’s vision: “Her goal was to create a sense of pride and unity among African Americans in their cultural background.
The seven days of the Kwanzaa celebration are intentional. From the ancient African belief systems emerges the framework for this modern American holiday. Kwanzaa was created to teach seven principles associated with a rich African cultural heritage. Each night, starting on December 26, a child is invited to light a candle in their kinara holder, to emphasize one of the Kwanzaa principles. The principle, its origins and how to apply it in our time are then discussed by family members or a community group of observers.
Kwanza is a Swahili word which means “first fruits”. It relates to the agricultural abundance harvested from the land through the collective efforts of a wise and ancient people. One observer called it a metaphor for a prosperous life. African Americans are the descendants of one of the 55 countries in Africa today. First fruit festivals are numerous and significant in agricultural economies. Professor Karenga added an extra “a” to Kwanza so that it has seven letters to further emphasize the seven principles. Each principle begins with a Swahili word:
1. Omoja – means striving for unity in family, community and beyond.
2. Kujichagulia – means striving for self-determination, speaking for oneself and for others.
3. Ujima – means to strive in collective work to solve the problems of the community together.
4. Ujamaa – means striving to promote the collective economy for self-sufficiency in enterprises.
5. Nia – means to engage with the goal of uplifting the dignity and worth of people.
6. Kuumba – means striving for creativity to improve the community and enhance its beauty.
7. Imani – means having faith in causes that strengthen family and influential talents that courageously lead to uplifting community.
Kwanzaa has a gift component. Books promoting a better understanding of African American heritage and heritage are recommended for all ages. Handmade gifts are also strongly encouraged. The documentary “The Black Candle”, narrated by Maya Angelou and directed by MK Asante, is inspiring and informative. Watching it will cheer you up. The holiday is also recognized in Canada, Jamaica and Brazil. He has been recognized by the last four US presidents. The US Postal Service commemorated him with a stamp. Hallmark sold their first Kwanzaa greeting card in 1992. Happy Kwanzaa!