Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Celebrating Kwanzaa: December 26 - January 1, 2012

Kwanzaa is a non-religious African American holiday that celebrates family, community, and culture. It is celebrated for seven days: December 26 - January 1st.

Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966. He founded US, a cultural organization, and started to research African "first fruit" (harvest) celebrations. Dr. Karenga combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and those of the Zulu, to form the basis of Kwanzaa.

The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits" in Swahili. The traditional Kwanzaa greeting is "Habari gani?"

Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal. An African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31.

Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba—the seven principles of blackness), which Karenga said, "is a communitarian African philosophy. These seven principles comprise Kawaida, a Swahili term for tradition and reason. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles, as follows:

“The first candle lit is the center black one that represents the first principle- Umoja, meaning "Unity," on the first day. To strive for, and to maintain, unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

On the second day, the second candle lit is the farthest red one on the left, this represents the second principle- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

On the third day, the third candle is lit on the farthest right green one which represents Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.

We return back to the next red on from the left for the fourth day, representing Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

The fifth day, we light the next green candle from the right which represents Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Going back to the red side, on the sixth day, the next candle from the left closest to the black candle is lit representing Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

This falls on New Year's Eve also and usually when we feast. It is at this feast we have someone in the family recite, and usually an elder, reads:

Strive for discipline, dedication, and achievement in all you do. Dare struggle and sacrifice and gain the strength that comes from this.

Build where you are and dare leave a legacy that will last as long as the sun shines and the water flows.

Practice daily Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba, and Imani. And may the wisdom of the ancestors always walk with us. May the year's end meet us laughing, and stronger.

May our children honor us by following our example in love and struggle. And at the end of next year, may we sit together again, in larger numbers, with greater achievement and closer to liberation and a higher level of life. Harambee.

On the seventh day of Kwanzaa, the last green candle is lit, which represents Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

The last day is no different, except that after the principle is discussed, the candles are extinguished and Kwanzaa is over.

Kwanzaa gifts, or zawadi, are usually given daily. The gifts recognize achievements of the recipient while stressing the themes and principles of the holiday. Gifts related to education, African and African-American culture, or the arts make good zawadi.

Happy Kwanzaa

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