by Sam Andrews
During the most recent meeting of newspaper club, we discussed potential articles, new editing methods, and cultural inclusivity around winter solstice holidays. It was during the latter of these discussions that I realized, despite its name being thrown around repeatedly, none of our members actually knew what “Kwanzaa” consisted of, why it is celebrated, or who celebrates it — a lack of knowledge that extended to myself. Therefore, I will be creating this short beginners guide and answering three questions:
Why is Kwanzaa celebrated? How is Kwanzaa celebrated? Who celebrates Kwanzaa?
Why is Kwanzaa celebrated?
Because Kwanzaa takes place in the month of December, it is often associated with Hanukkah and Christmas. However, Kwanzaa is far different in a few important ways.
First of all, Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. It was not created to celebrate a single historical event nor a person of faith. Instead, Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 to bring together African-Americans as a community after the Watts riots in Los Angeles. Secondly, Kwanzaa is a conglomeration of multiple first harvest celebrations from many different cultures in Africa including the Zulu, Yorubas, Ibos and Ashanti peoples.
These differences are key aspects as to why Kwanzaa is celebrated and how it has evolved over time. The customs surrounding Kwanzaa In the modern day are important to consider when examining Kwanzaa as a whole holiday. Kwanzaa today celebrates the “Seven Principles of African Heritage,” or “Nguzo Saba”: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). Kwanzaa celebrates many cultures rather than a celebration of one culture.
How is Kwanzaa celebrated?
Primarily, before understanding how Kwanzaa is celebrated, it is important to understand that everyone celebrates slightly differently. Because it is not a religious holiday, it is commonly observed in addition to other holidays like Christmas or Hanukkah. Kwanzaa takes place over seven nights of celebration, starting on December 26th. During the first night, families will often tell stories, sing songs, dance, and eat a large meal. This is followed by the lighting of a candle on the “Kinara” ( A form of candelabra consisting of three green candles, a central black candle, and three red candles) and discussion about one of the seven principles of African Heritage.”
Who celebrates Kwanzaa?
Although anyone is welcome to participate in Kwanzaa festivities, the holiday is a celebration of African-American culture. Thus, it is important to be respectful and remember not to appropriate cultures if you are not a part of them.
Although Kwanzaa used to be far more popular, particularly in the 1980’s and 90’s, it remains a widely celebrated and significant holiday today. Between 2006 and 2011, an estimated range of 2,000,000 to 12,000,000 people planned to participate annually, mostly in the United States and Canada.
I, Sam Andrews, in no way consider myself an expert on this topic, nor does anyone who helped me edit this article. Seeing as Kwanzaa is a part of a culture that I am not a part of, I apologize in advance for any potential errors I may have made, and would be willing to make corrections under the circumstances that I am provided with new or contrary evidence from a reliable source.