Kwanzaa is a Swahili word that entered the American lexicon in 1966.
It’s the name of the African-American holiday celebration that starts on December 26 and lasts for seven days.Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor and Chairman of the Department of Africana Studies at California State University at Long Beach.
After the terrible 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, Karenga wanted to find a new way of bringing African-Americans together as families and as a community.
His research on traditional African “first fruit” harvest ceremonies gave him the idea for Kwanzaa. And, on December 26, 1966, he organized and launched the first Kwanzaa celebration.
Karenga took the name from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means “first fruits.”
Today, Kwanzaa is observed by millions of people of African descent in America, Canada and other countries.
Since Kwanzaa is a cultural, rather than a religious holiday tradition, many of them celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa.
On each night of Kwanzaa week, families join together to light one of the seven candles on a special candleholder (called the Kinara), and discuss one of seven basic principles Dr. Karenga designated as important to honoring their shared African heritage and strengthening family and community bonds.
Those basic principles are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, economic cooperation, purpose, creativity, and faith.
I’ve heard some people scoff at Kwanzaa.
And, there are critics of Dr. Karenga, who has an admittedly controversial past (see the Wikipedia entry about him).
But it’s hard to dispute the fact that the principles he designated for African-Americans to focus on during Kwanzaa are worthy values for any family or cultural group to think about and celebrate.
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