At a time of social conflict and the marginalization of communities and their needs, it is more important than ever to focus on things that bring people together and to celebrate our roots and culture. Kwanzaa gives us all an opportunity to reflect on what is most important in our lives and to recognize traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Millions of people will celebrate the holiday next week, which lasts from December 26th through January 1st. The holiday concentrates on the traditional harvest festivals based in Africa with a strong focus on community, family, and culture. Kwanzaa is centered around seven core principles including Unity, Self-determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith. Each principle offers a direct relation to one of the three core aspects of Kwanzaa: community, family, and culture.
Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, in 1966. Dr. Karenga was troubled by the division of the African American population after the infamous Watts riots in Los Angeles and wanted to create a holiday that focused on bringing people back together and embracing African cultural traditions and values.
The holiday is celebrated for seven days, offering up a focus on each principle for each day. For example, the crops represent the gathering of traditional African harvest festivals, while the placemat represents the focus on culture, history, and tradition. Ear of the Corn celebrates fertility, children, and the future of the family. The Seven Candles offer hope and represent the bringing of light. Each day offers a heightened focus on the ideals and principles that are to be emphasized in the coming year. Gifts are exchanged on the seventh and final day of the festivities. Whether a unique handmade item or a store-bought gift, beautiful Kente cloth and clothing, candles, unity cups, or books about the holiday for children are among the myriad of possibilities for meaningful gift-giving.
Celebrating Kwanzaa is not a conflict of interest when it comes to the holiday season; in fact, many celebrate the holidays in conjunction with their personal religion and practices. Like all practices, being aware of the holiday, practicing mindfulness and focusing on the guiding principles of the holiday is all it takes to “celebrate.” To learn more about the principles and days of celebration to incorporate into your life this holiday season, check out the official Kwanzaa website for detailed information.