Sunday, December 26, 2010

Kwanzaa Time

While many are winding down from the hustle and bustle of Christmas, some of us are preparing for another celebration: Kwanzaa. Although it has been appearing more and more on calendars these last few years, many people still don't quite know what the celebration is about.

Kwanzaa is a cultural - not a religious - celebration started in 1966 by California State University professor Dr. Maulana Karenga as a way to combat the negativity and dissension caused in the African American community as a result of the Watts riots. The word Kwanzaa is from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits of the harvest." Dr. Karenga added the last "a" to distinguish it from the African custom that celebrates the time before the beginning of the dry season. It was meant to be a way for Americans of African descent to create our own customs while learning a little about African customs as well. And like the harvest festival, Kwanzaa was designed to be a time to celebrate.

Kwanzaa begins the day after Christmas each year and lasts for seven days, ending on January 1. Each night, a red, black or green candle is lit and a different principle is emphasized. Today is Umoja, which means unity. It applies to our families, our communities, our nation and our world. Tonight, we will light a black candle in our kinara (wooden candle holder). Tomorrow is Kujichagulia, which means self-determination - the right to decide who we are, what we will become and what we will create for ourselves. Tomorrow night, we will light a red candle.

The third Kwanzaa principle is Ujima, which means collective work and responsibility. This means we should build and nurture our communities and work together to solve common difficulties. On the third night, we light a green candle.

The fourth principle is Ujamaa or cooperative economics. The principle encompasses the need to maintain our own stores, businesses and organizations by shopping in our neighborhood groceries and utilizing our area agencies. On the fourth night, we light another red candle.

The fifth Kwanzaa principle is Nia, which means purpose. Taking care of ourselves, those around us and our communities can help fulfill the purpose of making our world as great as it can be. On the fifth night, we light the second green candle.

The sixth principle is Kuumba or creativity. As the emphasis for the celebration has little to do with commercialism, hand-made or educational gifts are exchanged - many of which are made during the sixth day of Kwanzaa. On the sixth night, we light the final red candle.

The final principle is Imani, which means faith. To me, it translates to mean that heart-felt knowledge that things will work out exactly the way they are meant to. It also means acknowledging the faith of our ancestors and having faith in those who will follow us along the path. On the last night, we light the final green candle.

This year on New Year's Day, my family will host our second Kwanzaa karamu, or feast. Family and friends will gather to eat, talk, sing, dance and laugh. We will pour a libation to honor those who have passed on and enjoy each other's company. Many on our guest list have never even heard of Kwanzaa before, much less actually celebrated it. It will be a very memorable time, I'm sure.

To learn more about Kwanzaa, click here. Harambe! (let's all pull together) - and Happy Kwanzaa!


  1. What an amazing sounding celebration! I hope you and your family have a great week, and a really good time on New Years Day.

    Reading this has made me realise that Swahili is actually very similar to japanese - all the words in bold in your post, with the exception of the "li" in "Kujicagulia" (which would be "ri") can be said in Japanese.

    Have a great time for the rest of the holiday season, and here's to a fantastic 2011!

  2. Thanks, F. It really is a great time to reflect and plan. We've been celebrating it for about 10 years, but it is only our second karamu. Looking forward to sharing it with friends and family...

    Wishing you and yours a wonderful 2011 as well :-)


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