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Happy Kwanzaa!

January 13, 2015

A few days ago, I learnt the existence of Kwanzaa, while I was watching an American TV Show (indeed, it is not celebrated in Europe). As a consequence, I wanted to learn more about this holiday.



Kwanzaa is an African American celebration, which takes place during Christmas time. Many of its traditions stem from Christmas and Hannukah, however, Kwanzaa remains unique.

The name of this celebration comes from the sentence “matunda ya kwanza”, which means “first fruits of the harvest”  in Swahili (the most spoken African language, used here so as to maintain unity). It is a “young” holiday, as it was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana “Ron” Karenga (a Professor of Black Studies). It was founded during the Black Power Movement, and reflects a will for groundedness; indeed, not only did the African Americans want to be recognized in the United States but they were also willing to keep a link with their African roots. Here is the vocation of Kwanzaa: affirming a new culture whilst repsecting the former traditions.

One of the main ideas at the core of Kwanzaa is unity: contrary to Christmas and Hannukah, it is a social holiday. Thus, African Americans can celebrate Kwanzaa regardless of their religion.

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However, Kwanzaa’s symbols remind me of Hannukah’s: seven candles are lit (as in the Jewish holiday): they are meant to represent the seven principles which are: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective work and responsibility), Nia ( Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), Ujamaa (Collective economics), and Imani ( Faith). As the celebration lasts seven days, each day is supposed to focus on one of the principles. On the 6th evening, families gather and the presents are exchanged on the last day.

As the other winter holidays, Kwanzaa has its own symbols, including the seven candles, the presents, the crops (symbolic of African harvest celebrations),…

The people who celebrate Kwanzaa often decorate their houses: this holiday is associated with its own colors. If Christmas is red, green and golden, Kwanzaa is also colorful: mainly black, green and red.

In order to celebrate Kwanzaa there are some simple but firm rules: respecting its traditions, having a personal reflection about life,… The most important of all, according to the crew is that Kwanzaa should not be mixed with another celebration. That is to say, even if Kwanzaa is social, it cannot be celebrated as well as a religious holiday.

The most important aspect of Kwanzaa is reflection. A day of reflection is observed by everyone who celebrates it so as to consider what has been done during a year and what is still to achieve. Kwanzaa is a holiday gathering members of a community; its main aspects are unity, remembrance and reflection. This social and recent holiday is more and more celebrated in the USA as it allows people of African descent to have their own winter holiday. Kwanzaa takes place from December 26th to January 1st, but whether you celebrate it or not, happy holidays!

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