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What Can Kwanzaa Teach Me?

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First Fruits

In the spirit of the holidays at this time of year,

I decided it was time to learn more about Kwanzaa.

All I really knew about Kwanzaa was that it was

a celebration created in the 1960’s and was based

in African culture.  I have great respect for anyone

who takes the time to create something meaningful

to help others focus on what is truly important

in life.  That’s what I thought Kwanzaa may be…

First Fruits

Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase for

“first fruits.”  For seven nights, families gather

for a traditional meal, music and storytelling or

poetry-reading based around the seven principles

of the celebration…African-American cultural

values which help to nurture strength and community.

Kwanzaa was indeed created in the 1960’s in the U.S.

by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor in California

who more recently, in 1995, helped write the

mission statement for the Million Man March,

one of the most important and most emotional

national events in African-American history.

Re-Focus and Re-Group

Karenga believed that for a displaced and

disenfranchised group of people to restore

a sense of place, strength, and community,

a celebration of their heritage could allow

them a chance to refocus and re-group.

In much the same way that Christmas

and Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights

celebrations allow people to re-focus their

thoughts and actions based on shared beliefs

and principles, so does Kwanzaa.

Principles to Live By

The 7 Principles of Kwanzaa, Nguzo Saba,

and the symbols used in the celebration :

1. Unity – in the family, community, nation, and race

*Symbol : Mazao, the crops

2. Self-Determination – to decide who you are,

how you will be called, how you will have a voice

*Symbol: Mkeka, the placemat

3. Collective Work & Responsibility – to strengthen

the community and solve problems collectively

*Symbol : Vibunzi, ear of corn

4. Cooperative Economics – to maintain and support

stores and businesses to strengthen community

*Symbol : Mishumaa Saba, the seven candles

5. Purpose – the building and support of community

*Symbol: Kinara, the candleholder

6. Creativity – to leave the community a better place

*Symbol : Kikombe Cha Umoja, the unity cup

7. Faith – to believe in the righteousness of the struggle

*Symbol : Zawadi, gifts

All About Kwanzaa

Although originally celebrated as an alternative to

the traditional holidays, Kwanzaa is now often

observed along with Christmas and New Year’s as

it begins on December 26th and ends on January 1st.

It is estimated that somewhere between 12 and

30 million people will celebrate Kwanzaa.

Maya Angelou narrated an award-winning 2009

documentary, The Black Candle, about the struggle

of African-Americans to restore a sense of pride in

their families, communities, and larger culture.

What Kwanzaa Has To Do With Me

The principles of Kwanzaa are helpful and

positive, whether interpreted strictly as a way

to strengthen African-American community or

interpreted more broadly as ideals for each of

us to pay attention to all year round.  The idea

that we are all one, that we need to support one

another, and leave our communities better places

than they were before we became a part of them

resonates with me.  The idea that it is up to each

of us to determine for ourselves who we are, what

we stand for, and how we will have a voice is one

I whole-heartedly support.  So, although I will

still celebrate my traditional holiday,

I have a better appreciation for the origins and

meaning behind Kwanzaa and can keep this in

mind as I go through the holidays this season.

I hope you  will, too!  🙂


To learn more about Kwanzaa, click here!



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