Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture
By Guest Blogger Melissa Taylor (CLICK HERE FOR HER BIO (she has a beautiful heart!))
Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan African celebration of family, community and culture. Created by Dr. Maulana Korenga in 1966, the intention behind Kwanzaa is to honor African heritage in African American culture. It is a seven-day event, observed December 26 through January 1. Each day celebrates and expands on one of the Nguzo Saba.
Nguzo Saba is Swahili for The Seven Principles. The Nguzo Saba are the origin and the meaning of Kwanzaa.
- Umoja means Unity.
- Kujichagulia means Self Determination.
- Ujima means Collective Work and Responsibility.
- Ujamaa means Cooperative Economics.
- Nia means Purpose.
- Kuumba means Creativity.
- Imani means Faith.
The Principles are explained here in greater detail at officialkwanzaawebsite.org.
I personally take these days to renew and reset my family, biological and chosen, for the upcoming new year. There are beautiful decorations, full of symbology and meaning to be set out. There are informative and fun events to attend in the community. There are elders who unleash stories they keep stored away all year until they reach the peak attention of Kwanzaa. It is a time to seek where you come from, honor your ancestors and give flowers to the elders while they are still on this plane. It is also a time to fill the corners and edges of the blank slates of youth, so that they may have a deep path to hold as a landmark, no matter what direction they travel in.
Kwanzaa is a time for introspection and sharing as well. It’s a time for planning. We may celebrate for only seven days, but I have always believed in revisiting the principles throughout the year. I believe you should be able to give an account of whether you followed through on all that festivity fueled gusto because that’s what we gather together for, maintenance and improvement.
Kwanzaa is not African Christmas. It isn’t centered around a religious phenomenon but the spiritual wellbeing of our people. We may exchange gifts but those are reserved mainly for children and encouraged to be handmade or memorable hand-me-downs. We gift experiences through storytelling, music, dance and food.
I was introduced to Kwanzaa as a freshman at Florida A&M University. During the sweltering Tallahassee heat, our President of Student Affairs organized a Rites of Passage program based on the Nguzo Saba. A small group of early students heard a different speaker and did a different craft for seven days. One of those crafts was the art of drum and dance. I continued on to become a professional African dancer with knowledge of the dances of the Diaspora as well. I have maintained a positive presence in my community and participated in active outreach. Kwanzaa is responsible for introducing me to the different aspects of myself and allowing me to facilitate that introduction for others as well.
Melissa Taylor (pictured above) sharing her love of dance.
Find her on Instagram – @bohemian.mani.ac
1. Is Kwanzaa an African Christmas?
Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, but a cultural one with an inherent spiritual quality as with all major African celebrations. One is not expected to give up one’s religion to practice one’s culture. You can celebrate both. Therefore, it is not uncommon for a person to celebrate both Kwanzaa and Christmas/Other Religious Holidays. Africans of all faiths can and do celebrate Kwanzaa, i.e., Muslims, Christians, Black Hebrews, Jews, Buddhists, Bahai and Hindus as well as those who follow the ancient traditions of Maat, Yoruba, Ashanti, Dogon, etc. For what Kwanzaa offers is not an alternative to their religion or faith but a common ground of African culture which they all share and cherish.
2. What is the meaning of the Kwanzaa colors?
The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green; black for the people, red for their struggle, and green for the future and hope that comes from their struggle. Therefore there is one black candle, three red and three green candles. These are the mishumaa saba (the seven candles) and they represent the seven principles.
3. Can you tell me more about the “Kinara”?
The Kinara holds the candles for the week. You light one more each night until they are all lit. You can buy them on Etsy and Amazon but you’re encouraged to make your own.
4. What is a traditional dance of Kwanzaa?
5. What food is typically eaten at Kwanzaa?
On December 31, the holiday culminates in a feast called Karamu, and Kwanzaa tables overflow with the best of everything.
6. Do you gifts during Kwanzaa?
We may exchange gifts but those are reserved mainly for children and encouraged to be handmade or memorable hand-me-downs. We gift experiences through storytelling, music, dance and food.
If you’re invited to a celebration it really depends on whether it’s a public or private event. Public, don’t worry about it. Private, I find gifts for the home to be more appropriate.
7. How do you wish someone a Happy Kwanzaa?
8. Where can I find more information about Kwanzaa?
Thank you Melissa for this amazing post! If any of you are interested in being a guest blogger like Melissa on hmmhotmessmama.com we would love to hear from you! Send Susan an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I know you have awesome stuff to share that we can all laugh about and learn from!