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December 23, 2009 > Kwanzaa: A celebration of African culture

Kwanzaa: A celebration of African culture

By Alissa Gwynn

Many people often associate the holiday season with reindeer, carols, or menorahs. Yet, aside from Christmas or Chanukah, there is a non-religious holiday that is often left out - Kwanzaa. From Friday, December 6 to Friday, January 1, many Africans and African-Americans will celebrate the African community, culture, and family through Kwanzaa's 2009 theme of 'repairing and renewing the world.'

Derived from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means 'first fruits,' Kwanzaa was originally created during the Black Freedom Movement in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karengain, professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach, in order to recognize the African culture and affirm the bond among those with a common heritage.

Symbols and values are the core concepts of Kwanzaa and the African culture. According to Kwanzaa's official website, "Kwanzaa was created out of the philosophy of Kawaida, which is a cultural nationalist philosophy that argues that...Africans must discover and bring forth the best of their culture, both ancient and current, and use it as a foundation to bring into being models of human excellence and possibilities to enrich and expand our lives."

During the week-long celebration, symbolic black, green, and white candles that represent the people, their struggle, and hope, respectively, are lit by the youngest child of the family, beginning with the black and moving left-to-right on the subsequent nights. Each of the seven candles also represents one of the following Nguzo Saba, or seven principles, of Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). These seven principles serve as a foundation of African culture to strengthen the family and cultural connections in the African community.

In addition to the seven principles, Kwanzaa also arranges seven symbols during the celebration: 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, and Zawadi, gifts representing parents' labor and love and commitments by children.

On the last day of the celebration, typically called the day of meditation, the African people reflect on both the past and future to recommit to their families and selves with a humble introspective attitude.

For many years in the past, the Afro-American Cultural and Historical Society of the Tri-City Area hosted a Kwanzaa celebration, but due to an increase in rental fees, the organization is unable to hold an event this year. However, those who wish to learn more about Kwanzaa may visit the official Kwanzaa website at

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