Kwanzaa

How do you feel about Kwanzaa?  I have never celebrated Kwanzaa. I don’t think my family knew much about it and frankly, they didn’t care. I learned about it in my after school programs that were run by afrocentric staff. I mean, we did a mini rites of passage thing one summer, so you know they were on their Kwanzaa game.

Clicking around the internet, I see that a lot of people dismiss Kwanzaa as the “Black Christmas” or they hate on it because it was invented. Well, ALL holidays are invented. Shoot, I just watched a documentary on Christmas and saw how monarchies, governments and religious powers all shaped Christmas celebrations to suit particular needs. Jesus wasn’t even born anywhere near Dec. 25th! President’s Day was certainly “invented” so I don’t get trashing Kwanzaa because it was invented.

That Black Christmas thing, well that’s just false. However, I think it ‘s how most people view Kwanzaa and therefore do not take a closer look at what the holiday has to offer. 

Kwanzaa is celebrated from Dec. 26th – Jan. 1st and was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana Studies. Karenga was inspired to create Kwanzaa by what he saw as a need to “preserve, continually revitalize and promote African American culture.” The official Kwanzaa site makes a point to mention that Kwanzaa is NOT a religious holiday. I think that’s important because folks are definitely confused about that. I think they put Kwanzaa in the same box as militant, back-to-Africa, separatist thinking. That for everything “white” there must be a black version. That’s not Kwanzaa’s deal. We can all observe the holiday just like we observe Cinco de Mayo and Chinese New Year.

From what I’ve learned, Kwanzaa seems like something I’d like to eventually share with my children. Who can argue with the values? There are seven values or principles to Kwanzaa called the Nguzo Saba. They are Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work & Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). Isn’t that really what we strive to teach our children? Aren’t those the principles by which we seek to live our lives? I think so.

Today, our community is dealing with many issues including so-called “broken families,” unemployment, lack of self-sufficiency, teen-pregnancy, health problems, incarceration, and a general lack of respect. Karenga noted that the seven Kwanzaa principles are values that were always at the heart of African communities as well as African American communities. If we look back, 50 or 60 years we can see that Black communities were pretty conservative and held family values in high esteem. Kwanzaa is really just a throwback to what already was.

With any holiday, Kwanzaa has its traditions and ceremony. Candles are lit in a Kinara (sort of like a Menorah) to symbolize each of the Nguzo Saba. Bright African cloth, ears of corn and a Unity Cup are a few of the items you’ll find at any Kwanzaa celebration. More info can be found on the official site. I like the fact that gifts given for Kwanzaa are the kind that reinforce the values and support positive imagery for Black children. In the wake of Christmas celebrations, a holiday that focuses on less materialistic things might be welcome.

While I said I’d like to incorporate Kwanzaa into my family’s holiday celebrations, I might have to tweak it a bit. I’m not going to pull out any Kinte cloth or run out and buy a dashiki. I’m not going to run around and decorate my home with red, black and green (although the home might already be red and green with Xmas decor). I can’t get into an overly afrocentric style. Maybe that’s strange because I majored in African American studies and I’m as pro-black as the next one. I guess I just see it as corny to a certain extent. That’s the beauty of Kwanzaa though, right? If it’s all about the message, lessons and values, then it shouldn’t matter if ALL of the ceremony is followed. It’s a cultural holiday, remember.

Go cop your Kwanzaa stamps, invite some white people over to light red, black and green candles with you. Pour libations to the ancestors and give your kids a book. We Black, yo. I wonder if Barack is going to put a kinara on the mantle in the East Wing?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Kwanzaa

  1. Et Cetera

    My family has always observed Kwanzaa. I don’t say celebrated because like you said, it could get a little corny. We’ve never had a full on set up for that reason. But I think of Christmas decorations along the same line. People put up trees and tinsel with no understanding of the origins of those symbols. And Christmas decorations can definitely get corny lol (my neighbor has a damned 5 ft inflatable snow globe in his front yard). I do think that observing the Seven Principles and handmaking gifts is a great come down after the commercialized mess that we call Christmas these days.

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