Several years ago, a colleague walked up to me and started firing off questions about Kwaanza. As the only black person working in the office, she assumed I would have in-depth knowledge of the holiday. I didn’t know whether I should be offended by the assumption or embarrassed that I knew absolutely nothing about it. Either way, I decided to do my research to enlighten myself about the meaning of the celebration.
Kwaanza is a secular holiday that takes place annually over seven days from December 26th to January 1st. It was started in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, an African-American Studies Professor, specializing in Pan-Africanism, in response to the Watts Riots. The goal of the Kwaanza celebration, according to Karenga, was to “Give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” Originally thought of as a replacement for Christmas, which Karenga deemed a “white holiday”, many now celebrate Kwaanza alongside Christmas. Karenga believed that celebrating African cultural norms that pre-dated American slavery was a natural part of our evolution a necessary tie back to our stolen history.
Kwaanza is a Swahili word meaning “first fruit”. It originated from the Nguni people of South Africa and the ceremony was a sacrifice of the first fruits of the harvest to God(s), who they believed was responsible for the abundance of food. It symbolized a time of prosperity after the agricultural season. Kwaanza is represented by the Pan-African colors; red, green, and black (yellow is often incorporated as well). The rituals performed during the holiday promote African tradition and are based around Nguzo Saba, the “seven principles of African Heritage”. The seven principles are represented by the Kinara, a candleholder with seven red, black and green candles. Each day one is lit until all have been used. Whatever your personal beliefs, there is no downside to implementing this celebration for your family. Personally, I try to practice these year-round but having a focused celebration on the importance of each is an excellent way to keep your family moving in the right direction. The thought of starting something new can be daunting, so to simplify, I have listed the seven principles below, along with how my family aspires to celebrate each:
- Umoja (Unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race. On Day One, December 26th, my family takes part in a game day where we play games that require us to work together. In addition, we talk about struggles and either listen or offer suggestions to overcome them.
- Kujichagulia (Self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves. On this day, December 27th, we take the time to write down words that represent who we are and how we want the world to see us. This includes listing what is important to us, what he have learned and done in the current year and what we would like to achieve in the upcoming year.
- Ujima (Collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together. Day Three is a continuation of Day Two; today we review the the self-determination items and collectively come up with ideas to help one another. We brainstorm ways that we can help each other reach the goals for the upcoming years.
- Ujamaa (Cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together. My household family is full of creatives; I write and create/sell products, my husband is a filmmaker/producer and videographer, my twelve-year-old is a YouTuber and my 10-year-old is a avid TikToker. In addition to their regular jobs, my grown children make music. On Day Four of Kwaanza, we spend time generating ideas, timelines and even working on projects for our collective businesses. The goal is to spend at least an hour focused on each individual’s ventures. In addition, we go over topics like, building credit, financial responsibility, wealthbuilding, equity, and provide funding for everyone to make a small stock purchase.
- Nia (Purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness. Day Five is all about learning. With our goals and business ideas fresh in our minds, we focus on books, videos, and any other learning materials that can be beneficial in our success. Even whe nothing directly correlates, we spend the day reading, writing or watching movies related to our history or of eductional value.
- 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. Day Six, the last day of December and of the year, we focus on giving back. We either go clean up an area in need or prepare and hand out post-holiday meals to those in need.
- 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. My family likes to start Day Seven, the final day of Kwaanza and the first day of the new year, by either listening to positive affirmations or reciting our own. We believe that faith and the Law of Attraction go hand-in-hand. What we believe, we will achieve. We end this day with gratitude by delivering gifts to our parents and elders who have been supportive and influential in our lives.
Food, of course is a staple throughout the entire celebration especially on the final day of celebration. On January 1st, we prepare a meal consisting of traditional soul food such as ox tails, greens, dressing, jambalaya, and cornbread, combined with some of our favorite Ethiopian recipes such as lamb dishes, veggie platter, including Shiro Wot and Misir Wot. Each year, we plan to add a new African recipe to our feast. These meals are included in our New Year’s Day gift deliveries.
With a global pandemic in full swing, violence at an all-time high, and mental health issues becoming more commonplace, any reason to keep family close, build together and support one another is a welcome reprieve. Whether you take some of my ideas or come up with your own unique ways of celebrating, incorporating these tenets can be the start of an epic 2022. Start small with just you and your household. From there, you can start to include more family members and create meaningful and beneficial experiences for all. Happy Kwaanza and a blessed and fruitful New Year to you and yours!