Kwanzaa is celebrated by African Americans between December 26 and January 1 each year. It is a festival I became aware of only in the last few years, though it marks its 50th anniversary in 2016. It may be new to you as well.
Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Black Studies, in 1966 at the height of the struggle for Civil Rights. It is based on the year-end harvest festivals that have taken place throughout Africa for thousands of years. The name comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits of the harvest.” All the words and phrases are in Swahili, because it was spoken by many different peoples in Africa. Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, nor is it meant to preempt Christmas. It is rather a celebration of unity among the black community.
Each of the seven days emphasizes a particular principle. These are:
- umoja (oo-MOH-ja) meaning unity
- kujichagulia (koo-jee-cha-goo-LEE-yah) meaning self-determination
- ujima (oo-JEE-mah) meaning collective work and responsibility
- ujamaa (oo-JAH-ma) meaning cooperative economics
- nia (nee-AH) meaning a sense of purpose
- kuumba (koo-OOM-bah) meaning creativity
- imani (ee-MAH-nee) meaning faith
Kwanzaa celebratory symbols include a mat (Mkeka) on which other symbols are placed: a Kinara (candle holder), Mishumaa Saba (seven candles) mazao (crops), Muhindi (corn), a Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) for commemorating and giving shukrani (thanks) to African Ancestors, and Zawadi (gifts).
There are seven candles in the Kwanzaa candle holder. One candle is lit each day. The candles are three green, one black, and three red. Green is for the fertile land of Africa; black is for the color of the people; and red is the for the blood that is shed in the struggle for freedom.
Traditionally, a feast is held on December 31, featuring African food, and January 1, the last day, presents are given to children.
Today I am featuring quotes from The Quote Garden which they label Quotations for Kwanzaa. These are not directly about the festival, but illustrate some of the meaning behind it.
Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.–Alexander the Great
In union there is strength.–Aesop
So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.–Bahá’u’lláh
The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.–James Baldwin
Unity to be real must stand the severest strain without breaking.–Mahatma Gandhi
In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.–Booker T. Washington
Cooperation is the thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there.–Virginia Burden
Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.–Kenyan proverb
One is a member of a country, a profession, a civilization, a religion. One is not just a man.–Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
You cannot contribute anything to the ideal condition of mind and heart known as Brotherhood, however much you preach, posture, or agree, unless you live it.–Faith Baldwin
No man is free who is not a master of himself.–Epictetus
Every man is the architect of his own fortune.–Sallust
We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone … and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads form one to another that creates something.–Sandra Day O’Connor
Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.–Henry Ford
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.–Helen Keller
We all participate in weaving the social fabric; we should therefore all participate in patching the fabric when it develops holes.–Anne C. Weisberg
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