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The end of the year is usually a time of many celebrations. For many people, the holiday season is a time to come together with family and friends to celebrate the past year. However, many end of the year holidays follow European beliefs. In the United States, a holiday for primarily Black, or historically stigmatized, people did not exist until the 1960s. This newer holiday would be the celebration of Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa began in 1966. It was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University. He taught classes in the Africana Studies program. This was done in response to the Los Angeles Watts Riots of 1965 according to interexchange.org.

The Watts Riots began after Marquette Frye was pulled over and arrested for suspected drunk driving. While attempting to arrest him, a fight broke out. The police, in an act of violence, hit Marquette Frye in the head with a baton which was witnessed by many people. This upset many communities and people wanted to fight back against the police. Thus, the Watts Riots occurred. The extent and outreach of the Rodney King riots from 1992 are often compared to the Watts Riots.

https://www.parents.com/recipes/entertaining/holidays-special-occasions/what-is-kwanzaa-how-to-explain-the-african-american-holiday-to-kids/

Dr. Karenga researched multiple African harvest celebrations. For example, he took aspects of celebrations “such as those of the Ashanti and those of the Zulu” to create the initial idea of Kwanzaa (interexchange.org). According to history.com, he came up with the name for the holiday from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza.” This Swahili saying means “first fruits.”

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nguzo saba

Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26th to January 1st each year. This celebration happens through a discussion of the seven core principles and occurs throughout the week. According to interexchange.org, those principles are:

  1. Umoja – Unity. “To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.”
  2. Kujichagulia – Self-Determination. “To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.”
  3. Ujima – Collective Work and Responsibility. “To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and solve them together.”
  4. Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics. “To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.”
  5. Nia – Purpose. “To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.”
  6. Kuumba – Creativity. “To always do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.”
  7. Imani – Faith. “To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

It is said that these values represent “African culture that help build and reinforce community among African-Americans.” 

https://www.hrc.org/news/kwanzaa-a-celebration-of-who-we-are-and-what-we-can-become

mishumaa saba

Along with the seven core principles, there are seven symbols as well. According to interexchange.org, those symbols are:

  1. Mazao – Crops. “…symbolizes the fruits of collective planning and work, and the resulting joy, sharing, unity and thanksgiving part of African harvest festivals.”
  2. Mkeka – Place Mat. “…mkeka symbolizes the historical and traditional foundation for people to stand on and build their lives.”
  3. Muhindi – Ear of Corn. “…represents fertility and the idea that through children, the future hopes of the family are brought to life.”
  4. Mishumaa Saba. – The Seven Candles. “…serve to symbolically re-create the sun’s power, as well as to provide light.”
  5. Kinara – The Candleholder. “…represents our ancestry, and the original stalk from which we came.”
  6. Kikombe Cha Umoja – The Unity Cup. “…the libation ritual is performed to honor the ancestors. Every family member and guest will take a drink together as a sign of unity and remembrance.”
  7. Zawadi – Gifts. “…gifts are given to encourage growth, achievement, and success.”

“Heri za kwanzaa”

Each symbol is important to the core meaning of Kwanzaa. For example, the color of the candles hold deep meaning. “Three…are red, representing the struggle; three…are green, representing the land and hope for the future; and one…is Black, representing people of African descent.” (history.com). Another example would be giving gifts on the final day of Kwanzaa. It is encouraged to give homemade gifts to display the idea of self-determination or purpose. If buying gifts, it is preferred for them to be purchased from a small Black owned business local to your community. Therefore, when giving gifts for Kwanzaa, make sure to consider what that gift is providing for the person.

Kwanzaa is a beautiful celebration of culture, family and the history of Black people. This was created as a way to bring together and unite our communities. This holiday season, take the time to celebrate your family, your values, your community and yourself.

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