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December 27, 2005 > Kwanzaa: A Season of Celebration, Meditation and Recommitment

Kwanzaa: A Season of Celebration, Meditation and Recommitment

by Linda Stone

Described as an "African American and Pan African holiday," Kwanzaa originated amidst the tumultuous Black Liberation movement of the 1960s. Dr. Maulana Karenga, "Creator of Kwanzaa" states, "Kwanzaa brings a cultural message which speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense." He stresses that the celebration is cultural, not religious and "can be practiced by Africans of all religious faiths who come together based on the rich, ancient and varied common ground of their Africanness."

The word, Kwanzaa, comes from Swahili; "kwanza," means "first," as in the phrase, "matunda ya kwanza" (first fruit). Addition of another "a" distinguishes the African - American from the African spelling of kwanza. Designated as an annual celebration from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, Kwanzaa is a time of fasting, feasting and self examination springing from traditional harvest festivals in Africa.

Tuli Vu Jadi, assistant director of the African American Cultural Center in Los Angles, explains, "In 1966 Kwanzaa was created in the mist of the Black liberation movement - a time of heightened and expanded sense of human possibility. It grew out of that context, a holiday that represents the best of what it meant to be African and human in the fullest sense."

Dr. Karenga developed the celebration as recognition of African culture and an affirmation of the bond among those with a common heritage. "Families and friends in L.A. were the first to celebrate and then it just grew from that. It was embraced by others in the city and throughout the state, across the country, and is now celebrated by over 30 million people worldwide," said Jadi.

The celebration of Kwanzaa is guided by the Nguzo Saba or Seven Principles: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Works and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). Jadi comments, "Dr. Karenga, in his studies, came up with those values that represented the social glue of African culture. So those seven values seem to thread [through] every aspect of it in some way. It was in the context of during the Black freedom movement and the stress of that time of the African culture."

Seven symbols are present during the celebration of Kwanzaa. These include, Mazao (The Crops) symbolic of African harvest celebrations, the rewards of productive and collective labor; Mkeka (The Mat) representing tradition and history; Kinara (The Candle Holder) symbol of roots in continental Africa; Muhindi (The Corn) children and the future; Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles), the Seven Principles; Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup), symbolic of the foundational principle and practice of unity; Zawadi (The Gifts), symbols of the labor and love of parents and the commitments made and kept by children.

Candles are placed in the Kinara with a black candle in the middle, three red candles to the left and three green candles to the right; black for the people, red for their struggle, and green for the future and hope that comes from their struggle. Kwanzaa commences each evening with the lighting of one candle by the youngest child of the family. On the first day of Kwanzaa the black candle is lighted, and every night thereafter, the candles are lighted from left to right.

This order signifies the primary role of people, followed by struggle and finally hope for the future. Once the candle has been lit, the family gathers around the celebration table to read the seven principles and meditate on the principle of the day. "Each day is a time for deep and sober reflection on those values and finding creative ways that they can be lived and carried out on both the personal and the community level," said Jadi. "This year, Kwanzaa is a season celebration, meditation and recommitment."

A Kwanzaa celebration will be observed and open to all in our community at the Centerville Community Center in Fremont featuring African American cuisine, activities and a program. "We will be honoring families, elders and saluting our youth and extending a warm welcome for college youth who are home for the holidays and hope they will come and have an opportunity to speak," said Jean Ficklin, member of the Afro-American Cultural and Historical Society.

For more information on Kwanzaa, visit

Kwanzaa Celebration
Friday, Dec. 30
6 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Centerville Community Center
3355 Country Dr., Fremont
(510) 489-0689

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