25 Days of Christmas (22)

Sunday, December 22, 2013


To learn more about this series click here!

As I mentioned in my previous post about Hanukkah, I enjoy learning about other cultures and religions so I decided to dedicate some posts to holidays other than Christmas that are celebrated around this year. Another one of these holidays is Kwanzaa and it's celebrated from December 26 to January 1.

Maulana Karenga


Kwanzaa is a celebration that honors African heritage in African-American culture. It was created by Maulana Karenga, a professor, activist and author, in 1966 to "give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of dominant society." It was originally created as an alternative to Christmas, but as Kwanzaa got into the mainstream society Karenga changed his position so that practicing Christians wouldn't be alienated. Today, many African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa also celebrate Christmas.

Karenga also created Kwanzaa to celebrate the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba. The seven principles comprise Kawaida, a Swahili term for tradition and reason. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles (all the following is taken word-for-word from Wikipedia):




The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

-Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race

-Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves

-Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together

-Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together

-Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness

-Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it

-Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle

A typical set up for Kwanzaa
A typical Kwanzaa celebration would go as follows: first a central place in the home for the Kwanzaa Set (the symbols of Kwanzaa) is chosen. Then a table is spread with an African cloth and the mkeka (mat) is placed down and the mazao (crops) and ears of corn are placed on the mkeka, at least two ears of corn are placed on the mat. Then the kikombe cha umoja (the Unity cup) is placed on the mkeka. It's used to pour tambiko (libation) to the ancestors in remembrance and honor of those who paved the path down which they walk and who taught them the Tamshi, or the good and beauty in life. Then African art objects and books on the life and culture of African people are placed on or next to the mat to symbolize their commitment to heritage and learning. Next the Kinara (candle holder) is placed on the mat and the Mishumaa Saba (seven candles) are placed in the Kinara.

An illustration of the Kinara.

The three colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green. Black represents the people, red represents their struggle, and green represents the future and hope that comes from their struggle. The seven candles include one black, three red, and three green, all representing the seven principles. The black candle is placed in the center of the Kinara and represents the first principle Umoja (Unity). The red candles represent the principles of Kuijichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) and Kuumba (Creativity), and are placed to the left of the black candle. The green candles represent the principles of Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Nia (Purpose) and Imani (Faith), and are placed to the right of the black candle. The black candle is lit first on the first day of the celebration and the remaining candles are lit from left to right on the following days. The candles are lit this way to show that the people come first, then the struggle, and then the hope that comes from the struggle. (Info from here).
It's so interesting to see how different cultures celebrate their holidays and to see what's important to them. I didn't know anything about Kwanzaa other than that it was celebrated by African Americans. Now I know what it means, how it began and what the significance is. I hope you guys have learned something new as well! (:

Also, if you celebrate Kwanzaa and have noticed any mistakes please let me know! Thanks!

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