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December 31, 2008 > Kwanzaa, colorful threads of American tapestry

Kwanzaa, colorful threads of American tapestry

The creation of Kwanzaa is not hidden by the mists of time rather it is a modern reflection of the finest characteristics of African cultures that have had a profound impact on the American landscape. Created amid the tumultuous 1960s by Dr. Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa promotes a cultural rather than religious message. Defined as a celebration of the "rich, ancient and varied common ground of Africaness," Kwanzaa draws on symbolism to illustrate the finest qualities of Africa and the potential to fully exploit positive aspects of humanity.

Borrowing from the Swahili phrase, "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits," the word "kwanza," meaning "first" is distinguished by an additional "a." Kwanzaa is observed from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Created to reflect African-American commitment to the African culture, Kwanzaa includes five fundamental tenets of Continental African "first fruit" celebrations: gathering; reverence; commemoration; recommitment; and celebration. It recognizes a common heritage and the "social glue" called "Nguzo Saba." Kwanzaa honors Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).

Each of these values is celebrated to create a feeling of kinship among community and family so every year this festival attracts people not only of African-American or African heritage, but from other ethnic communities as well. During Kwanzaa celebrations, the following symbols of African values are displayed:

Mazao - crops representing productive and collective labor
Mkeka - a mat representing tradition and history
Kinara - a candle holder representing African heritage
Muhindi - corn representing children and the future
Mishumaa Saba - candles representing the Seven Principles
Kikombe cha Umoja - a Unity Cup
Zawadi - gifts representing parents' labor and love and commitments by children

Candles are placed in the Kinara, 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.

For those interested in learning more about Kwanzaa and celebrating this joyous and meaningful event, the Afro-American Cultural and Historical Society will host a free Kwanzaa celebration at the Holly Community Center in Union City on Sunday, December 28 from 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. "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.

Kwanzaa Celebration
Sunday, December 28
3 p.m. - 6 p.m.
Holly Community Center
31600 Alvarado Blvd., Union City
(510) 489-0689 or (510) 793-8181

For more information on Kwanzaa, visit

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