December 10, 2020
The December holiday season is here, and you know what that means—we’re celebrating Kwanzaa. The word itself derives from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means the “first fruits of the harvest.” Kwanzaa started in 1966, when Doctor Maulana Karenga held the festival in the U.S. to celebrate African heritage and identity. Now, Kwanzaa is held from December 26 to January 1.
During the seven-day Kwanzaa festival, many African-American families gather to celebrate and honor their rich cultural history. They sing, dance, tell stories, read poetry, feast, and play the African drums. Kwanzaa is a reminder that celebrating love and community is a wonderful way to connect with and respect your African heritage.
Kwanzaa was conceived as a non-political and non-religious holiday for African-Americans; it’s not a substitute for Christmas. Therefore, both Christmas and Kwanzaa are celebrated during this time of year. Kwanzaa is also celebrated outside of the U.S., specifically in countries where there’s a large population of African descendants. The festival has seven principles, one for each day of Kwanzaa celebrations. The Nguzo Saba (or the seven principles of African heritage) are:
1. Umoja, or unity: to strive for and maintain unity within the family, community, nation, and race.
2. Kujichagulia, or self-determination: to define and create a space where the community speaks for themselves.
3. Ujima, or collective work and responsibility: to build and maintain a community who solves community problems together.
4. Ujamaa, or cooperative economics: to build and maintain businesses and profit from them together as a community.
5. Nia, or purpose: to build and develop the community in order to restore the members to their traditional greatness.
6. Kuumba, or creativity: to do as much as possible to leave the community better, more beautiful, and beneficial than initially inherited.
7. Imani, or faith: to have faith in the community, in parents, teachers, and leaders; have faith in the righteousness and victory of the struggle.
Along with the Nguzo Saba, there are seven symbols that represent Kwanzaa traditions:
1. Mkeka, a woven straw mat that symbolizes the tradition as the foundation on which all else rests.
2. Kinara, a seven-space candle holder symbolizing the original stalk from which the African people originated.
3. Mishumaa saba, seven candles that represent the Nguzo Saba. Three red candles represent struggle, three green candles represent the future, and a black candle represents the African people.
4. Kikombe cha umoja, a unity cup that signifies the first principle of Kwanzaa and that is used to pour a libation.
5. Vibunzi, an ear of corn representing each child present.
6. Mazao, fruits and vegetables that symbolize traditional African harvest celebrations.
7. Zawadi, gifts signifying the labors of the parents and the rewards of their children. These usually include a book and a heritage symbol.
On each day of the Kwanzaa celebrations, the family gathers to light the mishumaa saba in the kinara and discuss the principle for the day. People greet each other by saying, “Habari gani,” which is Swahili for, “What’s the news?” or “How are you?”. The typical response to the question is the principle of the day. For example, you respond with “Umoja” the first day, “Kujichagulia” on the second, and so on.
A candle-lighting ceremony takes place every night during Kwanzaa. The black candle (the centerpiece) is lit first, followed by the red and green ones; the candles on the ends are lit first, moving inwards with each passing day.
The final night of festivities is celebrated with a beloved and cherished Kwanzaa tradition: a community feast called the karamu. The dinner table is filled with a array of foods from various African cultures; some people wear traditional African garments as well. During the karamu, participants exchange the zawadi, or handmade Kwanzaa gifts. Educational and homemade Kwanzaa gift ideas are highly encouraged. When giving pre-made presents, the best options are books, art- and music-related accessories, or any other culturally themed products— preferably from Black-owned businesses.
California-Made Kwanzaa Gifts For Adults
Traditionally, gifts are given to children on the last night of the festivities. However, it’s not unusual to hand out Kwanzaa gifts to adults. Here are a few pre-made Kwanzaa gift ideas to give to your special someone or family members while celebrating your heritage.
1. A copy of Charles V. Hamilton’s Black Power: The Politics of Liberation from Shades of Afrika.
2. A Shades of Blackness art print folio from Bloom and Plume.
3. A gorgeous headwrap from Simply Wholesome.
4. An African handmade wooden set of candle holders from Great Gatsby’s.
5. A Black Lives Matter sweater from My Black Clothing.
10. Maya Angelou is an influential Black Californian who helped shape the state, so you can't go wrong with a copy of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings from Marcus Book Stores.
11. A Makenge basket from Ananse Village.
12. A She Who Kneels throw blanket from African American Expressions.
Handmade Kwanzaa Gifts
It’s important to remember that Kwanzaa isn’t about receiving presents, but about giving. Handmade Kwanzaa gifts are a thoughtful way to show that you took your time to craft and design something for the ones you love. Since Kwanzaa is a special, personal, and cultural celebration, a handmade Kwanzaa gift makes it more sentimental.
1. Candles are a quintessential symbol of Kwanzaa traditions, and they’re easy to make. When gifting candles, make sure to wrap them in a red, black, and white gift bag with a heartfelt card wishing them warmth and togetherness this Kwanzaa.
2. Another wonderful Kwanzaa gift idea that’s homemade is a mkeka. Learn to sew a mkeka using different types of materials to show your love.
3. For a heartfelt handmade Kwanzaa gift, you can never go wrong with a scrapbook filled with stories, recipes, and pictures of former Kwanzaa celebrations. Include wishes in the album that are inspiring, uplifting, and positive.
4. Craft your own Kente African ornaments to festively hang around the house. Complete the gift by accompanying it with a greeting card.
From Umoja to Imani, may all the blessings of Kwanzaa be yours. We wish light, happiness, and peace to you in the coming year.
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