SATURDAY, DECEMBER 26: Gather in the name of unity and learn the seven principles—today begins the seven-day commemoration of Kwanzaa.
Each year, Kwanzaa founder Dr. Maulana Karenga publishes an annual message. Now in his late 70s, these messages are heart-felt appeals to rediscovering and reclaiming African values that can contribute to the wellbeing of the whole world.
In his 2019 message, he stressed practicing good throughout the year, and the concept of living the Kwanzaa principles in all seasons. Karenga wrote, in part:
Kwanzaa’s origins are both ancient and modern and both sources serve to urge us to constantly strive and struggle to be ourselves and free ourselves, to live good lives and to bring forth the best of what it means to be African and human as both a personal and social practice. Kwanzaa’s rootedness in ancient African first fruit or first harvest celebrations offers a framework of activities that are not simply seasonal, but are all-season practices of building family and community, preserving and expanding culture, and doing good in and for the world. For it is a people-focused, environmentally caring and morally concerned holiday dedicated to cultivating, harvesting and sharing good in the world.
His 2020 message will appear just before Kwanzaa begins in the festival’s official website.
ORIGINS OF THE FESTIVAL
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.”
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. 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.
CUSTOMS, RECIPES & MORE
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.
In its nearly half-a-century of observance, Kwanzaa has spread in popularity throughout the United States and into Canada.