Kwanzaa is a seven-day festival celebrated by African-Americans of all religious faiths and backgrounds. Marked by the colors of the Bendera (African flag), it is a week meant for honoring the African-American race as well as a time to enforce a connectedness to our cultural heritage. Most importantly, it is a pause to ponder the seven principles (the Nguzo Saba) that have sustained Africans and should continue to be carried out in our every day lives.
Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in the nineteen-sixties - a decade that saw many social and political changes throughout America and a time in which African-Americans struggled for freedom and our own self-identity. Inspired by the harvest festivals in Africa, Karenga sought to re-create a similar festival in America. He called it Kwanzaa, derived from the Kiswahili (Swahili) phrase, "matunda ya kwanza," which means "first fruits" and the first celebration occured on December 26, 1966. It is believed that this timing was selected to avoid the commercial shopping period, but to take advantage of the vibrant holiday spirit.
At the start of Kwanzaa, families or community groups will set up a table or alter decorated with the following representative items:
Each night during Kwanzaa, the family or community will gather to light a candle, pray, sing, drink from the unity cup and discuss the highlighted principle for that day. The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba, are:
Closing out Kwanzaa is the Karamu, a feast held on the sixth night (December 31), that brings families and communities together to give thanks to the Creator for their accomplishments during the year. This feast includes a meaningful ceremony followed by lots of eating, drinking, dancing and, in some cases, gift giving.
Although the holiday is marked by seven specific days in the year, it is the intention of Kwanzaa to become a way of life, not just a change in thought that occurs on those seven days. The seven principles should be woven into the every day lives of African-Americans of all ages in order to help us understand the significance of our past and build towards the future, united in the strength of our people and our mission.
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