Before writing this article, I knew just as much about Kwanzaa as you probably do. I hope you learn something about this beautiful holiday, like who celebrates it, what it is about, and what other people know about it (which frankly, is very little).
Kwanzaa was formed in 1966 by Ronald McKinley Everett (also known as Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga) as a celebration of African American heritage. It was formed after the Watts Riots in the Watts Neighborhood in Los Angeles, which lasted 6 days and were the biggest of its kind. Karenga noticed the splintering of African American groups and created this holiday as a unifying factor, and for a way for African Americans to celebrate their heritage together. The first Kwanzaa was celebrated by only a few hundred people, but is now celebrated across the United States by 28 million people from the western African diaspora.
Kwanzaa lasts seven days, from December 26th to January 7th, every year. The candle holder holds seven candles — three red, one black, and three green. On the first day, only one candle is lit, and each subsequent day you light the next candle, usually from left to right. Each candle represents a different principle of Kwanzaa, those principles being:
- Umoja- Unity
- Kujichagulia- Self Determination
- Ujima- Collective Work and Responsibility
- Ujamaa- Cooperative Economics
- Nia- Purpose
- Kuumba- Creativity
- Imani- Faith
These were created by Dr Karenge as guiding principles, and were meant to be discussed during the holiday of Kwanzaa. The principles represent seven values of African culture in America, and are used to build and reinforce the community among African-Americans. Each day of Kwanzaa, a candle is lit on the kinara (candle-holder), and a different principle will be discussed. On the first night, the black center candle is lit, and the principle umoja, or unity, is discussed. During the last day of Kwanzaa, families also enjoy a traditional African feast, called the karamu.
After the 7 principles there are seven core symbols that one may have surrounding and including the kinara. The items each represent a different thing such as:
- Mazao- Crops: the collective planning and work and the sharing of joy in the harvest
Mkeka- Place Mat: the foundation and tradition people build their lives on
Muhindi- Ear of Corn: fertility and children
Mishumaa Saba- The Seven Candles: the 7 principals talked about earlier
Kinara- The Candleholder: ancestry and lineage
Kikombe Cha Umoja- The Unity Cup: unity and remembrance of the ancestors
Zawadi- Gifts: Growth, achievement and success
Credit caption for this image???
What was most interesting about this topic while I was researching was people’s ignorance towards the holiday, including my own.
When I talked to my friends about Kwanzaa they only knew it was celebrated mainly by African Americans and that it used the Kinara (although they didn’t know the name of it) May people lacked general knowledge of the holiday, and even had a few misconceptions about it. Most people I asked didn’t know that the holiday was only started recently in the 60´s, the reason it was formed, or that it was created in America.
Despite the importance of Kwanzaa to the African American community, it remains topic that is rarely taught, and that few discuss. This leads to an under-appreciation of the holiday in America, the country that the holiday originated from. In the future, we can only hope that word of the holiday spreads, and that it gets the appreciation and recognition it deserves.
I hope you have learned something about Kwanzaa here. This article is just a brief overview; I haven’t mentioned the different rituals and celebrations residing in each day, or the history and brief commercialization of Kwanzaa. If you would like to learn more about Kwanzaa, check out the sites I used. Have a happy holidays!