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Just recently, the post office has come out with a stamp for Kwanzaa. I would have to say that my first thought was "Neat-looking stamp......what's Kwanzaa??" Well, I was soon to find out. The news that night on the television showed a group of African-Americans celebrating Kwanzaa at a community center. They explained that the basis of Kwanzaa is community and family. I thought, "Wow!! That's really neat!! Why haven't I heard of this before?? Is it something new??" As it turns, it isn't new.

In 1966, Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga looked around and saw that there were many ways that the black community taught culture, heritage and unity. He wanted to come up with a celebration that would tie all of these ways together. So he created Kwanzaa and on December 26, 1966, he introduced it to the African-American community.

Kwanzaa is kiswahili for "first fruits of the harvest"and has a set of seven principles called Nguzo Saba. These seven principles are not just for the celebration itself, but are meant to be a guiding force in life. It is celebrated from December 26th until January 1st each year. "Kwanzaa is a spiritual, festive and joyous celebration of the oneness and goodness of life, which claims no ties with any religion." 


In the picture above, you may have noticed the candleholder. It is called a Kinara and holds the seven candles that stand for the seven principles of Kwanzaa:

UMOJO (oo-MOE-jah) (Unity) stresses the importance of togetherness for the family and the community.

KUJICHAGULIA (koo-jee-cha-goo-LEE-ah) (Self-Determination) requires that we define our common interests and make decisions that are in the best interest of our family and community.

UJIMA (oo-JEE-mah) (Collective Work and Responsibility) reminds us of our obligation to the past, present and future, and that we have a role to play in the community, society, and world.

UJAMAA (oo-JAH-mah) (Cooperative economics) emphasizes our collective economic strength and encourages us to meet common needs through mutual support.

NIA (nee-AH) (Purpose) encourages us to look within ourselves and to set personal goals that are beneficial to the community.

KUUMBA (koo-OOM-bah) (Creativity) makes use of our creative energies to build and maintain a strong and vibrant community.

IMANI (ee-MAH-nee) (Faith) focuses on honoring the best of our traditions, draws upon the best in ourselves, and helps us strive for a higher level of life for humankind, by affirming our self-worth and confidence in our ability to succeed and triumph in righteous struggle.

"Each night, people gather together to light the candles of the kinara and to share their thoughts on the special Principle of that day." The colors of the candles have a special meaning. Black is for the color of the African-American skin. Green stands for the fertility of the land and the hope of new life. Red represents the struggles of the people and the blood that has been shed. The first night, the black candle is lit and for each of the remaining six nights, the red and green candles are alternately lit.

"The gatherings take place seven times until all seven candles have been lit and all seven Principles have been talked about."

"People might get together in their homes, or they may gather in a church or the home of another family they know."

"On the sixth day, which falls on December 31st, there is a great feast called the karamu. This is a joyous celebration of music, happiness, folktales, song, and dance."

"During the feast everyone present will sip from the kikombe cha umoja, the cup of unity. The karamu is also the time when the zawadi, the gifts, are exchanged."*


Like most other holidays, Kwanzaa has its own symbolism. Each symbol playing an important role in the celebration:

MKEKA (M-kay-cah) - This is a woven straw mat. It serves as the foundation for all the other symbols.

KINARA (Kee-nah-rah) - This is the candle holder and represents all life springing from one stalk.

MSHUMAA (Mee-shoo-maah) - These are the seven candles that represent the seven principles.

MUHINDI (Moo-heen-dee) - These are ears of corn. Each family has one ear of corn per child in their household. They represent the continuity of the family or community. Every household will have at least one ear of corn, even if there aren't any children, because the potential is there.

KIKOMBE CHA UMOJA (Kee-coam-bay chah-oo-moe-jah) - This is the unity cup and symbolizes the first principle of Kwanzaa. "It is tradition to pour libation in remembrance of the ancestors on all special occasions. Kwanzaa is such an occasion, as it provides us an opportunity to reflect on our African past and American present. Water is suggested as it holds the essence of life and should be placed in a communal cup and poured in the direction of the four winds: north, south, east, and west. It should then be passed among family members and guests who may either sip from the cup or make a sipping gesture."**

ZAWADI (Sah-wah-dee) - These are the gifts. They are usually made by hand as this symbol represents the principle of kuumba or creativity. It is encouraged for them to be of an artistic or inspirational nature.

KARAMU - This is the feast of Kwanzaa and is held on the evening of December 31st. It is when the community comes together to celebrate all their accomplishments of the past year. There is not only food, but dancing, singing, poetry reading, lots of laughter and conversation. The gifts (zawadi) are usually given at the end of the evening or early the next morning.

(Quotes excerpted from *Everything About Kwanzaa and **AFRO-Americ@: All Fun & Games)

Until We Meet Again



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