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Alternative Culture Articles

December 3, 2000

A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture
By Royce Carlson

In 1966, during the Black Freedom movement and after the Watts riots, the chair of the black studies department at California State University at Long Beach, Dr. Maulana Keranga, came up with an idea. That idea was Kwanzaa, a celebration of African roots and black unity in America. The idea has taken hold and, now, over 20 million people celebrate Kwanzaa in the U.S., Canada, England, the Caribbean, and in Africa.

The word "Kwanzaa" is derived from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits." It is based on African harvest festivals and is celebrated annually during the seven days after Christmas, from December 26 to January 1. Kwanzaa is primarily a cultural holiday, not a religious one. Its purpose is threefold: 1) to reaffirm and restore rootedness in African culture; 2) to serve as a regular communal celebration to reinforce the bonds between people; and 3) to introduce the seven principles.

The seven principles are:

Umoja - Unity

Kujichagulia - self-determination

Ujima - collective work and responsibility

Ujamaa - cooperative economics

Nia - purpose

Kuumba - creativity

Imani - faith

The colors associated with Kwanzaa are black – for the face of the people, red – for the blood they have shed, and green – for the hope and the color of the motherland. There is a ritual associated with the seven-day holiday involving the lighting of seven candles each representing one of the seven principles. The candles are lit alternately each day from left to right. Three red candles should be placed on the left and four green candles are placed on the right in the Kinara, a ritual candle holder.

This time of year is full of celebrations – Christmas, Hanukkah, and now there is Kwanzaa. All are celebrations of reflection, unity and hope. The popularity of Kwanzaa continues to grow. There are dozens of sites about Kwanzaa on the Web. A good introduction to Kwanzaa can be found at the Kwanzaa Welcome Page. You can also visit Dr. Karenga’s Official Kwanzaa Web Site.


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Royce Carlson