What’s Kwanzaa?

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Kwanzaa is a seven-day festival celebrating African American ancestry and community. It was created by Ron Karenga during the civil rights movement and emphasizes unity and community through seven principles. Kwanzaa can have an African touch and be celebrated alongside Christmas and New Year. Christians may incorporate the kinara, a special menorah, into their celebrations.

Kwanzaa is a seven day festival celebrating the ancestry of the African American. It strives to commemorate those things that help the African American community stay strong. It was born out of the civil rights movement and its inventor, Ron Karenga, initially wanted to give African Americans the opportunity to celebrate a holiday not invented by the dominant culture.

Since its inception in 1966, Karenga’s position has changed markedly. He now believes Kwanzaa is an appropriate celebration for many, just as any race in America might celebrate Chinese New Year. Karenga has also shifted its position to allow more people of different religions to celebrate this holiday without deviating from their religious beliefs.

The Kwanzaa celebration lasts for seven days and is not meant to imitate an African holiday. The word “Kwanza” loosely translates into Swahili as “firstfruits”. However, he never intended to imitate a specific pan-African holiday. It is specifically the celebration of African Americans; although many in other parts of the world now also celebrate the holiday.

The seven days of Kwanzaa correspond to the seven principles celebrated throughout the days. These are ideas that triumph over the idea of ​​community of individualism. Each day is dedicated to a specific idea. They are in order:
Unity of family, community, race and nation.
Self-determination that allows you to define yourself and to define your community. Self Determination also involves the celebration of past and present African American creations.
Collective work and accountability refers to the steps of all African Americans toward building a sustainable community together and inward to solving problems.
The cooperative economy refers to African American business leaders who show solidarity in business practices so that everyone profits from individual achievement in business.
Purpose is defined as the cooperative effort of all in the community to strengthen and restore the African American community.
Creativity means going the extra mile to beautify and make the African-American community memorable.
Faith refers to belief in one’s own people, teachers, community, religious leaders, and eventual success for African Americans.

These principles are each given one day of observation, but all emphasize the unity of the African American people and the importance of community. Kwanzaa celebrations can have a specific “African” touch. The house can be decorated with colorful African fabrics and people can dress up in traditional clothes. It can also be part of Christmas and New Year celebration.

In these cases, Christians celebrating Kwanzaa may have the Christmas tree and the kinara, the special menorah, which contains the seven candles representative of the Kwanzaa princes. More candles are lit on each night of the holiday. On the seventh night all candles are lit to symbolize the whole of Kwanzaa.

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