International Observance: Live by 7 principles this Kwanzaa

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 26: For many African Americans, December festivities deepen after Christmas during the weeklong celebration of Kwanzaa. From Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 each year, the Kwanzaa festival honors African-American heritage with the lighting of the traditional kinara, a drink from a Unity Cup, a plentiful feast and the exchange of gifts. (Get photos, a video and more at

Many traditions of Kwanzaa vary between families and communities, springing from the original seven principles of the observance: unity; self-determination; collective work and responsibility; cooperative economics; purpose; creativity and faith. (The official Kwanzaa site has more.) Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the principles.

Kwanzaa is more secular and social than religious in its focus—as created by Maulana Karenga in 1966. When Karenga noticed his African American friends and neighbors celebrating a typical American Christmas, he wanted them to have something unique—something just for themselves—and so he created Kwanzaa. (Wikipedia has details.) Karenga sought a way for African Americans to reconnect with their roots, study African traditions and unite. Although Karenga’s perspectives on Jesus and Christians was negative at first, he slowly changed his views through the years, and in 2007 he even noted that Kwanzaa should not be an alternative to Christmas.

It’s difficult to determine how many African Americans honor Kwanzaa, although Karenga recently invited all world citizens to celebrate with them. Just like many cultures recognize St. Patrick’s Day or the Chinese New Year, so too should everyone feel free to recognize Kwanzaa, said Karenga. (Get your kids into the Kwanzaa spirit with crafts and more from Kaboose.) So don’t be afraid to eat fresh fruits, listen to African drumming and wish your friends a “Joyous Kwanzaa!”

This year, several communities will hold a public celebration of Kwanzaa, including those of Detroit. Tonight, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History will be the site of African dance exhibitions, storytelling, drumming, dramatic performances and more. (Read a blurb in the Detroit News.)

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