Kwanzaa is an African-Americans celebration of life from 26 December to 1 January. Dr. Maulana Karenga introduced the festival in 1966 to the United States as a ritual to welcome the first harvests to the home.
I have celebrated Kwanzaa for over 30 years and Kathy and I have celebrated together for the past 14 years.
Kwanzaa is a holiday rich in symbolism and culture. I love it’s rituals, principles and lack of materialism.
This year we celebrated Kwanzaa in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We hope this will be an annual event.
Kwanzaa has seven core symbols:
1. Mazao: Crops – Mazao symbolizes the fruits of collective planning and work, and the resulting joy, sharing, unity and thanksgiving part of African harvest festivals. To demonstrate mazao, people place nuts, fruits, and vegetables, representing work, on the mkeka.
2. Mkeka: Place Mat – Just as the crops stand on the mkeka, the present day stands on the past. The mkeka symbolizes the historical and traditional foundation for people to stand on and build their lives.
3. Muhindi: Ear of Corn – The stalk of corn represents fertility and the idea that through children, the future hopes of the family are brought to life. One vibunzi is placed on the mat for every child in the family.
4. Mishumaa Saba: The Seven Candles – Candles are ceremonial objects that serve to symbolically re-create the sun’s power, as well as to provide light. There are three red candles, three green candles, and one black candle that are placed on the kinara.
5. Kinara: The Candleholder – The kinara represents our ancestry, and the original stalk from which we came.
6. Kikombe Cha Umoja: The Unity Cup – On the sixth day of Kwanzaa, the libation ritual is performed to honor the ancestors. Every family member and guest will take a drink together as a sign of unity and remembrance.
7. Zawadi: Gifts – On the seventh day of Kwanzaa, gifts are given to encourage growth, achievement, and success. Handmade gifts are encouraged to promote self-determination, purpose, and creativity.
Kwanzaa celebrates what Doctor Karenga calls the Nguzo Saba (the seven principlesl. These seven principles comprise Kawaida, Swahili word meaning “common”. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles.
- Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define and name ourselves, as well as to create and speak for ourselves.
- Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.
- Ujamaa (Cooperative economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
- Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
- 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.
- Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Our Kwanzaa celebrations always include an opportunity for our guests to come up and speak on one of the Nguzo Saba and what it means to them.
Our Kwanzaa celebrations are always joyous events filled with lots of love and laughter.
Children are always a key part of our celebration. I hope we are creating memories and instilling pride in our rich culture.
Wherever you are you can celebrate Kwanzaa and most importantly, we can all practice these principles every day!