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December 21, 2010 > Celebrating 44-year-old Kwanzaa tradition

Celebrating 44-year-old Kwanzaa tradition

By ElenaMartina

Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration held in the United States honoring African heritage and culture, observed from December 26 to January 1. It was created by Maulana Ron Karenga (born Ronald McKinley Everett), an author, political activist, and college professor, and first celebrated on December 26, 1966 during the Black Power movement of the 1960s to 1970s.

He named the new holiday Kwanzaa, derived from Swahili, meaning first fruits of the harvest. During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga said "it was meant to be an alternative to Christmas, and that Jesus was psychotic, and Christianity was a white religion that black people should shun." Karenga changed his position in 1997, and stated that "practicing Christians should not be alienated, and that it is a celebration of family, community, and culture. Kwanzaa does not give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday," and many Christian African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa do so in addition to observing Christmas.

Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of blackness: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith in people, parents, teachers, leaders, and their struggles. A Kwanzaa ceremony may include drumming and musical selections, readings, reflections, discussions, a candle-lighting ritual, artistic performance, and, finally, a feast.

The seven symbols of Kwanzaa are a mat, unity cup, crops of fruits and vegetables, a candle holder, seven candles (three colored red, three green, and one black - colors of the African Flag), corn, and gifts. Another view of the colors chosen for Kwanzaa is that red represents the blood shed during struggles, black is for the faces of African people, and green depicts hope.

According to author Keith Mayes, the popularity within the U.S. has leveled as the black power movement has declined, and between half and two million people celebrate Kwanzaa, or between one and five percent of black Americans. For some people the holiday no longer holds the same significance it had in the 1970s. To revive Kwanzaa in the mainstream, a U.S stamp was published in 1997. Since then, two other stamps - in 2007 and 2009 - have been issued.

The Afro-American Cultural and Historical Society of the Tri-City in Fremont (510-793-8181, ask for Jean) has not celebrated Kwanzaa in a couple of years, due mostly to lack of funds and interest. They may celebrate it early next year along with another upcoming holiday, but are not sure which one.

The West African Highlife Band kicked off the week-long celebration a bit early at the Oakland City Center on December 15th. For current activities in the area, the Bay Area Discovery Museum is offering Kwanzaa entertainment on Dec 26th (http://www.baykidsmuseum.org/programs-and-events/calendar/). For further information on the tradition of Kwanzaa and its rituals, go to http://www.holidays.net/kwanzaa/, and for Kwanzaa food recipes visit http://www.holidays.net/kwanzaa/recipes.htm.

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