Kwanzaa Date: December 26 to January 1
Kwanzaa is NOT a United States holiday. It is a festival among African-Americans.
Kwanzaa is an African-American Holiday that strives to celebrate the African roots. The celebrations center on various traditions unique to this festival, but the most important one is lighting the candles on the traditional holder called the Kinara. Kwanzaa is celebrated a day after Christmas till the New Year and is primarily celebrated in the United States. Apart from the lighting of the Kinara, other activities include pouring a drink honoring God (known as “libations”), having a magnificent feast, and exchanging gifts. It was first started with a purpose of bringing the African American community together and giving them an opportunity to celebrate their lineage.
History of Kwanzaa in the United States
The history of the festival dates back to 1966. It was the first specific African-American celebration. The founder, Ron Karenga, wanted African-Americans to discover the joy of celebrating their own culture rather than simply copying what the rest of society does. The founder gave this particular name to the festival, and it derived from the Swahilian phrase “Matunda Yaa Kwanza”. The choice of Swahili symbolized the movement that was started to unite all the families of the African Diaspora. This was the first festival to do so. It extended an opportunity to African-Americans to re-discover their African culture.
Kwanzaa has been popularly recognized with the US postal service releasing a stamp to honor it. The second stamp represented the principles followed in Kwanzaa. In earlier days, Christmas was considered to be specifically for the Caucasian community, and hence Kwanzaa was started to challenge this. But later, the founder changed his stance saying that it was not created to alienate Christianity. Today, most of African-American people celebrate Kwanzaa along with Christmas.
There are seven principles associated with this festival. They were intended to be the best compilation of the African traditions. Each tradition is represented by each of the seven days of this festival.
First, Umoja is celebrated to cherish unity in all walks of the society. Second, Kujichagulia recognizes ones self and our own purpose in life. Third, Ujima brings all the people together to manage the community and solve each others problems. Fourth, Ujamaa strives to bring forth corporate discipline in economics. Fifth, Nia deals with the purpose of life. Sixth, Kumba is to make us do our best. Seventh, Imani recognizes faith in people and values as the foremost thing.
The United States’ Kwanzaa Traditions, Customs and Activities
Houses are decorated with colorful African cloth and art, and women generally wear “kaftans”. There are fresh fruits that are eaten to represent the idealism of the African race. Children are generally included in the festivities as it teaches them about their lineage and gives respect to the ancestry. The drinks are shared among the family in a common glass. The feast is known as the “Karamu”. There is frequently drumming, singing, and reading a pledge to Africa and the principles of Africa. The people generally greet each other in Swahili with “Habari Gani” which means “What is new?”
There are also plenty of cultural exhibitions. There is an annual “Spirit of Kwanzaa” festival held at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that contains examples of African dances, songs, and poetry that capture the essence of these people.