Kwanza is an African American holiday rooted in the first harvest celebrations practiced by numerous indigenous cultures in Africa. The word "kwanzaa" derives from a Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits". The celebration emphasizes the unity of African American families by focusing on seven principles called the "Nguzo Saba." The seven principles reflect a culturally oriented way of life that can develop a positive sense of African American identity and self-esteem. There are seven days in Kwanzaa, one principle for each day. Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor in the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, and author and scholar-activist who stresses the indispensable need to preserve, continually revitalize and promote African American culture.
Kwanzaa seeks to enhance awareness of the past in order to deal with the present and the future more effectively. The Nguzo Saba embody the principles that helped Africans endure and survive slavery, oppression, and historical trauma, and provides a focal point for positive African American cultural identity. Kwanzaa is a spiritual, festive, and joyous holiday and Africans and African-Americans of all religious faiths and backgrounds practice Kwanzaa.
For more information, visit the Kwanzaa page at The Mystic Voodoo.
When is Kwanzaa?
The first Kwanzaa was was celebrated on December 26, 1966. Starting on December 26th, Kwanzaa lasts for seven days and nights, until January 1st. It is an American holiday, and occurs between the Roman Catholic and Protestant celebration of Christmas and the secular celebration of New Year's Day.
How is Kwanzaa celebrated?
During the week of Kwanzaa, people gather in the evenings to light the candles of the kinara and share thoughts on the Nguzo Saba of the day. There are seven candles, mishumaa saba, with three red candles to the right, three green candles to the left, and one black candle in the center of the kinara. The red is for the blood of the African people, the green is for the hope of new life, and the black is for the face of the African people.
The table is set with straw mats called mkeka, reminders of traditions and starting places, and mazao and muhundi, fruits and vegetables, representing the rewards of unity. Muhundi are ears of corn, and there is one ear for each child. Children are the center of the Kwanzaa celebration. There is also a unity cup, or kikombe cha umoja, from which all will sip.
During each night of Kwanzaa, one might stay at home with family or join other people out in the community. On the evening of Kuumba, there is acelebration called Karamu. This is the great feast of Kwanzaa, a celebration of African American heritage. There are folktales, songs, stories of the lives of famous African Americans, and plenty of food to enjoy! This is the night when people exchange gifts, too. It is a feast of the past, present, and dreams for the future.
The Kwanzaa Song
THE KWANZAA SONG
Kwanzaa is a holiday
Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa
Is an African holiday
Seven Black days for the African
Great Kwanzaa Stuff on Amazon
West African Benne Cakes
from The Story of Kwanzaa
by Donna L. Washington, illustrated by Stephen Taylor
Benne cakes are a food from West Africa. Benne means sesame seeds. The sesame seeds are eaten for good luck. This treat is still eaten in some parts of the American South.
You will need:
oil to grease cookie sheet
1 cup finely packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 325. Lightly oil a cookie sheet. Mix together the brown sugar and butter, and beat until they are creamy. Stir in the egg, vanilla extract, and lemon juice. Add flour, baking powder, salt, and sesame seeds. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto the cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Bake for 15 mintues or until the edges are browned. Enjoy!
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According to Kwanzaa'a founder,
"there is a traditionally established way of celebrating Kwanzaa. We should therefore observe these guidelines to make our Kwanzaa the most beautiful and engaging one and to keep the tradition. Without definite guidelines and core values and practices there is no holiday."