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What is Kwanzaa?

Although many have heard of Kwanzaa, and though they know it is a type of celebration, yet they aren't sure. Well, I'll tell you. Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday which is celebrated each year from December 26 through January 1. Contrary to popular belief, this cultural observance is not the anti-thesis or an alternative to Christmas. Many African-Americans celebrate both.

This lovely series of holy days are based on the first-fruits of the harvest celebrations held in Zululand in ancient Africa. During the seven days allotted, communities and families gather. From the beautifully white or silver-haired grandparents and great aunts and uncles, to the family's newest member, the wide eyed brown baby, all are present. For participants, Kwanzaa is in essence, a time of thanksgiving, a time to show reverence for the Creator. It is also a period in which the bond between loved ones may be strengthened. One of the greatest things about Kwanzaa is that it is a time when young African-Americans get to hear the stories of old from their elders. They get to re-live, through the telling, legacies past.

True, during this time, the enslavement of Africans is a topic, but it is not something to be dwelled upon, it is not something mentioned to evoke bitterness. Kwanzaa participants are encouraged to focus on values -- those of truth, justice, respect, for women, motherhood, fatherhood, and respect for the elders as well as for nature. Kwanzaa highlights things that are important, not just to African-Americans, but to all people...history, and the ongoing desire/struggle for equality and justice. It is a time that has been designated whereby participants may remember their humanity. It is a time when familial ties are honored; it is truly a time to celebrate life.

During this seven day event, gifts -- also known as zawadi are given or exchanged. Often, those who are older will give the young books or other items that inspire and promote education and the love of learning. Parties are attended and there is an intimate feel -- due to candles burning in a kinara. This is often times a beautiful wood and metal candelabra that may be found in Afrocentric stores and boutiques. At parties or gatherings, the sweet smell of incense or fragrant oils relax the senses, while music softly plays in the background as stories are recounted. There is laughter, love, and of course libation -- drink, and good food. If one chooses to, they adorn themselves in typical African regalia. However, most people simply make the attempt to look and act their best. Harvest fruit and nuts may be arranged on mkeka a straw mat, and family and friends may drink from the unity cup.

Each one of the seven days of this celebration illuminates one of seven principals. For each day, a separate candle is lit and the theme of that day is brought to mind. To find out more about lovely Kwanzaa and the seven days/principles associated with it, please join us in the ethnic beauty forum. To do an in depth study on Kwanzaa, you may turn to author Maulana Karenga's book entitled Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, or others.

For those of you who are poised to celebrate, I wish you peace, joy and Nia. -- purpose, not just in the holiday season, but throughout the whole year to come.


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