WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 26: Learn the seven principles and gather in the name of unity—for the seven-day commemoration of Kwanzaa. In a message for the holiday, 76-year-old founder of the festival Dr. Maulana Karenga stressed the universal themes of care for each other and our planet. Karenga wrote, in part:
Of all the rich, instructive, uplifting and expansive ways to express the central meaning and message of Kwanzaa, none is more vital or valuable than our seeing and embracing it as a season and celebration of creating and sharing good in the world. Even Kwanzaa’s most essential definition—as a celebration of family and community and culture—is a celebration of the shared good in and of family, community and culture, and ultimately what all this means for the good of the world.
This derives from a righteous reading and emulation of the ancient African model and practice of cultivating, harvesting, and sharing the first fruit of field and forest, i.e., life-sustaining good in the world. It is an ancient model rooted in cooperative agricultural practices that taught us the enduring value of our sowing seeds of goodness everywhere, of cultivating them with loving care, and harvesting and sharing the products in community binding and building ways.
An African American and pan-African holiday, Kwanzaa is—in both conception and practice—a world-encompassing celebration. It is world-encompassing in that it is practiced by millions of Africans throughout the global African community. And it is world-encompassing in its roots in ancient African agricultural celebrations and their concern with the earth and their conception of humans interrelated with the world and their responsibility to it.
ORIGINS OF THE FESTIVAL
To mark the half-century anniversary of the holiday, in 2016, Smithsonian Magazine described Kwanzaa as “one of the most lasting innovations of United States black nationalism of the 1960s.” The Chicago Defender described the arrival of this festival in Chicago half a century ago.
Created by Karenga in the mid-1960s as the first completely African-American holiday, Kwanzaa celebrations honor African heritage and culture. Though originally associated with the black nationalist movement, as Karenga today points out that Kwanzaa emphasizes connecting Africans of the Diaspora with their native roots and highlighting the universal themes in those ancient cultures that can build a healthier global community.
Specifically, Kwanzaa’s “seven principles” call to mind what Karenga refers to as a “communitarian African philosophy.”
Did you know? “Kwanzaa” is from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, or “first fruits of the harvest.”
KWANZAA’S SEVEN PRINCIPLES
Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to a principle, resulting in a total of seven Kwanzaa principles. The principles, though they may vary slightly in spellings, consist of: Umoja (unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective work and responsibility); Ujamaa (cooperative economics); Nia (purpose); Kumbaa (creativity); and Imani (faith).
Kwanzaa urges participants to maintain unity in family and race, to define themselves, to build community and profit together, and to always do what is possible at the moment. (Wikipedia has details.) Symbols and decorations aid in the unity of Kwanzaa observances, such as a decorative mat (mkeka), corn, a seven-candle holder (kinara) and a communal or unity cup. Often, an African feast—known as Karamu—is held on the sixth day of Kwanzaa, and gifts (zawadi) are exchanged on the seventh day.
Did you know? The proper greeting for Kwanzaa is “Joyous Kwanzaa.”
Household celebrations for Kwanzaa often include children, as do public Kwanzaa ceremonies.
Teachers and parents: You’ll find a couple of kid-oriented resources from Scholastic.com. First, there’s a lesson plan on discussing Kwanzaa’s principles and, then, there’s a second plan that also features a mancala game.
Community gatherings may include music, drumming, dancing, libations and the reading of the principles. Artistic performances, storytelling and ritual candle-lighting are also common.
In its nearly half-a-century of observance, Kwanzaa has spread in popularity throughout the United States and into Canada.