Celebrating Kwanzaa

kwanzaa Unlike Christmas or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. It is a cultural holiday for people of African decent and a time to celebrate family and community and culture for over 28 million people around the world.

During the week of Kwanzaa, my family and I, like African people throughout the world, gather to celebrate our achievements and heritage. We remember our past and make plans for our future.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966, in the midst of the Black Freedom Movement, by the author and philosopher Dr. Maulana Karenga. According to Dr. Karenga, Kwanzaa was created "as an act of cultural self-determination, as a self-conscious statement of our own unique cultural truth as an African people." Dr. Karenga is also a professor and chair of the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. The actual word "kwanza" is a part of the Swahili language, which is widely spoken throughout Africa. The word kwanza translates from Swahili directly as "First Fruits."

My family and I are Christian and we have been celebrating both Christmas and Kwanzaa for the last 10 years. On Christmas morning we go into the living room and gather around the Kwanzaa set we put out the night before. Kwanzaa has seven principles, or the Nguzo Saba (en-GOO-zoh SAH-bah), seven symbols, and is celebrated for seven days.

My mother always lights the black candle first to represent black people, Umoja(Unity). Umoja is the value we focus on Dec. 26. We read about the principle of Umoja, and reflect on how we lived in unity, throughout the year, and how we can improve for next year. We drink water from the kikombe cha umoja cup to symbolize unity. Then if my mother thinks that we have lived in unity we get a zawadi (gift), that represents unity. Also on the day of Umoja the African American Cultural Center has an Umoja night celebration. At the celebration the community has an gathering of people where we light the first candle on the kinara (candle holder). Many community leaders and elders speak.

The following day is Kujichagulia, (self determination). On this day we light a red candle to represent struggle and self-determination. Once again, we reflect on how we have been self-determining and how we can improve. Kujichagulia is my mother's favorite day.

The third day we celebrate Ujima (collective work and responsibility). On this day we light a green candle which represents the future. On the following day Ujamaa (cooperative economics) is celebrated and another red candle is lit. Then we celebrate Nia, (purpose) and a green candle is lit.

The sixth day is my personal favorite day -- Kuumba, mainly because of what the principle stands for. One of my main goals in life is to do as much as I can for our community and to leave it more beautiful and beneficial for the next generation. Kuumba means creativity.

On this night the African America Culture Center hosts an annual Karamu. I look forward to attending this event all year. We have special African clothing made for us. It's a large gathering and there is cultural entertainment such as African dancing, African narratives and poetry. There is also good African foods like curry chicken and plantain. On this night we light another red candle.

The seventh and last night of Kwanzza is Imani, which means faith. On this night we light the last remaining green candle and reaffirm our faith in our creator, our parents, our grandparents, our selves and our culture.

The seven symbols of Kwanzaa are also represented by mkeka (the mat) the foundation on which the other symbols rest; mazoa (the crops) which are fruits and vegetables representing the harvest, kikombe cha umoja (the unity cup) from which all drink; Kinara (the candle holder) which represent the Continental African People; and Mishumaa Saba (seven candles). One black candle is placed in the middle to represent the people, three red candles that represent the struggle and three green ones represent the future and hope of our people. The black candle is lit on the first day, the red on the second day and green on the third day and then alternating colors until all seven are lit on the last day.
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