We all appreciate Christmas and Hanukkah (well, most of us), but what about Kwanzaa? Here’s all you need to know about the week-long African-American holiday.
Contrary to popular belief, Kwanzaa isn’t a festival that originates from any African country nor is it the equivalent to an ‘African’ version of Christmas. It was in fact created as a way to bring African-Americans together in the U.S. and is known formally as a celebration of ‘all that is good in life.’
Dr. Maulana “Ron” Karenga, a scholar and professor of Black Studies at California State University, first proposed Kwanzaa in 1966 after the Watts race riots in Los Angeles. He sought to move African-Americans away from the violence associated with the Civil Rights era and encourage them to embrace their cultural and spiritual roots. This year will see the 47th annual Kwanzaa, the name of which comes from the Swahili phrase ‘matunda ya kwanza,’ meaning ‘first fruits of the harvest.’ Karenga researched traditional year-end African harvest celebrations and combined together different aspects of them to form Kwanzaa. Moreover, it is meant to be a nonsectarian holiday wherein blacks of any religion could join in.
So what does Kwanzaa involve? Celebrations start on 26th December and go on for seven days; it includes African storytelling, song and dance, poetry, and a large feast, the Karamu, on the last day.
Each night, families are meant to light a candle on the candle holder, the Kinara, and discuss one of the seven principles.
These are called the ‘Nguzo Saba’, created by Karenga, and all represent African cultural values: unity, self-determination, responsibility & collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
On the first night, a black candle in the center is lit and the value of unity is reflected upon. The rest of the candles are red, to symbolise the blood of African ancestry, or green to remind people of the lands of Africa.
Here’s a video of ‘Lift Every Voice And Sing,’ known as the Black National Anthem, a song that marks the triumphs and freedoms of African-Americans everywhere.
So if you know anyone that celebrates Kwanzaa, make sure you wish them a happy greeting this season: ‘Heri za Kwanzaa!’or ‘Happy Kwanzaa!’