What is Kwanzaa
AUTHOR: Unknown
PUBLISHED ON: November 5, 2006
DOC SOURCE: Yahoo Answers
TAGS: Kwaanza | Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa (or Kwaanza) is a week-long secular holiday honoring African-American heritage, observed from December 26 to January 1 each year, almost exclusively by African-Americans in the United States of America.

Kwanzaa consists of seven days of celebration, featuring activities such as candle-lighting and pouring of libations, and culminating in a feast and gift-giving. It was founded by controversial black nationalist Ron Karenga, and first celebrated from December 26, 1966, to January 1, 1967. Karenga calls Kwanzaa the African American branch of “first fruits” celebrations of classical African cultures.

1 History and etymology
2 Principles of Kwanzaa
3 Observance
4 Popularity
5 Evolution in Kwanzaa’s observance
6 Controversy
7 Footnotes
8 References
9 See also
10 External links

History and etymology
Ron Karenga created Kwanzaa in California in 1966, during his leadership of the black nationalist United Slaves Organization (also known as the “US Organization”), in order to give African Americans an alternative holiday to Christmas. He later stated, “…it was chosen to give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” [1]

Ron Karenga, founder of KwanzaaConcerning those who thought he was adapting kwanzaa from a traditional African practice, Karenga noted “People think it’s African, but it’s not. I came up with Kwanzaa because black people wouldn’t celebrate it if they knew it was American. Also, I put it around Christmas because I knew that’s when a lot of Bloods were partying.”[2]

The name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza”, meaning “first fruits”. The choice of Swahili, an East African language, reflects its status as a symbol of Pan-Africanism, especially in the 1960’s, though most African-Americans have West African ancestry.

An additional “a” was added to “Kwanza” so that the word would have seven letters. At the time there were seven children in Karenga’s United Slaves Organization, each wanted to represent one of the letters in Kwanzaa[3] Also, the name was meant to have a letter for each of what Karenga called the “Seven Principles of Blackness”. Kwanzaa is also sometimes spelled “kwaanza”.

1997 Kwanzaa stampIt is a celebration that has its roots in the civil rights era of the 1960s, and was established as a means to help African Americans reconnect with what Karenga characterized as their African cultural and historical heritage by uniting in meditation and study around principles that have their putative origins in what Karenga asserts are “African traditions” and “common humanist principles.”

In 1967, a year after Karenga proposed this new holiday, he publicly espoused the view that “Jesus was psychotic” and that Christianity was a white religion that blacks should shun.[4] However, as Kwanzaa gained mainstream adherents, Karenga altered his position so as not to alienate practicing Christians, then claiming in the 1997 Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, “Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday.” [5]

That same year the first Kwanzaa stamp was issued by the United States Postal Service on October 22 [6] at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, California. In 2004 a second Kwanzaa stamp , created by artist Daniel Minter was issued which has seven figures in colorful robes symbolizing the seven principles [7].

Principles of Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called “The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa”, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba), which Karenga claimed “is a communitarian African philosophy” consisting of Karenga’s distillation of what he deemed “the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world.” These seven principles comprise Kawaida, a Swahili term for tradition and reason that Karenga used to refer to his synthesized system of belief. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles, which are explained by Karenga as follows:

Umoja (Unity) To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s 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 heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
These principles correspond to Karenga’s notion that “the seven-fold path of blackness is think black, talk black, act black, create black, buy black, vote black, and live black.” [8]

Families celebrating Kwanzaa decorate their households with objects of art, colorful African cloth, especially the wearing of the Uwole by women, and fresh fruits that represent African idealism. It is customary to include children in Kwanzaa ceremonies and to give respect and gratitude to ancestors. Libations are shared, generally with a common chalice, “Kikombe cha Umoja” passed around to all celebrants.

A woman lights kinara candles on a table decorated with the symbols of Kwanzaa.A model Kwanzaa ceremony is described as a ceremony which includes drumming and musical selections, libations, a reading of the “African Pledge” and the Principles of Blackness, reflection on the Pan-African colors, a discussion of the African principle of the day or a chapter in African history, a candle-lighting ritual, artistic performance, and, finally, a feast. The greeting for each day of Kwanzaa is “Habari Gani”[9], Swahili words for “What’s the News?” [10]

At first, observers of Kwanzaa eschewed the mixing of the holiday or its symbols, values and practice with other holidays. They felt that doing so would violate the principle of kujichagulia (self-determination) and thus violate the integrity of the holiday, which is partially intended as a reclamation of important African values. Today, many African-American families celebrate Kwanzaa along with Christmas and New Year’s. Frequently, both Christmas trees and kinaras, the traditional candle holder symbolic of African-American roots, share space in kwanzaa celebrating households. To them, Kwanzaa is an opportunity to incorporate elements of their particular ethnic heritage into holiday observances and celebrations of Christmas.

It is unclear how many people celebrate the holiday. According to a marketing survey conducted by the National Retail Foundation in 2004, Kwanzaa is celebrated by 1.6% of all Americans[11], or about 4.7 million. In a 2003 interview Karenga asserted that 28 million people celebrate Kwanzaa.

In President George W. Bush’s 2004 Presidential Message: Kwanzaa 2004, as in several previous messages, he said that during Kwanzaa, “millions of African Americans and people of African descent gather to celebrate their heritage and ancestry.”

Evolution in Kwanzaa’s observance
In 1977, in Kwanzaa: origin, concepts, practice, Karenga stated, that Kwanzaa “was chosen to give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.”[12]

In 1997, Karenga changed his position, stating that while Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday, it can be celebrated by people of any race: “other people can and do celebrate it, just like other people participate in Cinco de Mayo besides Mexicans; Chinese New Year besides Chinese; Native American pow wows besides Native Americans.”[13]

Currently, according to the Official Kwanzaa Website authored by Karenga and maintained by Organization US, which Karenga chairs, “Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday. And it is not an alternative to people’s religion or faith but a common ground of African culture…Kwanzaa is not a reaction or substitute for anything. In fact, it offers a clear and self-conscious option, opportunity and chance to make a proactive choice, a self-affirming and positive choice as distinct from a reactive one.”[14]

Karenga’s most recent interpretation emphasizes that while every people have their various holiday traditions, all people can share in the celebration of our common humanity: “Any particular message that is good for a particular people, if it is human in its content and ethical in its grounding, speaks not just to that people, it speaks to the world.”[15]

There has been criticism of Kwanzaa’s authenticity and relevance, and of the motivations of its founder, Karenga. The origins of Kwanzaa are not secret, and are openly acknowledged by those promoting the holiday.[16]

Some criticize Kwanzaa because it is not a traditional holiday of African people, and because of its recent provenance, having been invented in 1966. Black civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson wrote, “…the whole holiday is made up! You won’t find its roots in Africa or anywhere else.”[17].

Some are concerned that Christians who choose to celebrate Kwanzaa are diluting their love for Christ[18]. In contrast, the African American Cultural Center considers Kwanzaa not a religious holiday, but a cultural one which does not require people to compromise their religious beliefs.[19]

Other criticisms center on Karenga’s criminal record, including time spent in jail for crimes against blacks, such as felonious assault and false imprisonment, which some critics, among them Les Kinsolving and William J. Bennetta, feel detract from Karenga’s claim that he created Kwanzaa to celebrate and strengthen the unity of black people. [1] [2] [3]

William Norman Grigg noted the seven-branch candle holder, the “Kinara,” was not used in African traditions, and suggested a symbol of Judaism, the Menorah, was borrowed to match the seven principles of Kwanzaa.[20] Notably, other aspects of Judaic culture were at times adopted by Black communities due to their association with the Exodus, the “going forth” of the Children of Israel as a people from slavery.

^ Kwanzaa: origin, concepts, practice p. 21
^ Kwanzaa
^ Believers web
^ The Quotable Karenga, p.25, University of Sankore Press, 1967
^ The story of Kwanzaa
^ Bringing Good Into the World
^ The Quotable Karenga, p.25, University of Sankore Press, 1967
^ Kwanzaa Greeting
^ A Model Kwanzaa Ceremony
^ “2004 Holiday Spending by Region”, ‘Survey by BIGresearch, conducted for National Retail Foundation’, 14 October 2004.
^ Kwanzaa: origin, concepts, practice, p. 21, cited at Believersweb.org. Retrieved on 2005-12-29.
^ Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, p. 110, cited at Believersweb.org. Retrieved on 2005-12-29.
^ The Official Kwanzaa Website. Retrieved on 2005-12-29.
^ The Official Kwanzaa Website FAQ. Retrieved on 2005-12-29.
^ The Official Kwanzaa Website – Founders Message. Retrieved on 2005-12-30.
^ Kwanzaa — Racist Holiday from Hell, Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson. FrontPage Magazine.com. Retrieved on December 29, 2004.
^ Peterson, Racist Holiday from Hell
^ The Official Kwanzaa Website – FAQ. Retrieved on 2006-03-29.
^ The True Spirit of Kwanzaa, Norman Grigg. New American. Retrieved on December 20, 1999.

A program to raise the faith level in African-American children through Scripture, Kwanzaa principles and culture, Janette Elizabeth Chandler Kotey, DMin, ORAL ROBERTS UNIVERSITY,1999
The US Organization: African-American cultural nationalism in the era of Black Power, 1965 to the 1970s, Scot D. Brown, PhD, CORNELL UNIVERSITY, 1999
Rituals of race, ceremonies of culture: Kwanzaa and the making of a Black Power holiday in the United States,1966–2000, Keith Alexander Mayes, PhD, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY, 2002
Interview: Kwanzaa creator Maulana Karenga discusses the evolution of the holiday and its meaning in 2004 By: TONY COX. Tavis Smiley (NPR), 12/26/2003
Tolerance in the News: Kwanzaa: A threat to Christmas? By Camille Jackson | Staff Writer, Tolerance.org, 12/22/2005
Should African-Americans Celebrate Kwanzaa? By: Mike Gallagher; Alan Colmes. Hannity and Colmes (FOX News), 12/22/2004
Is Kwanzaa a Racist Holiday? By: Sean Hannity; Alan Colmes. Hannity and Colmes (FOX News), 12/06/2005

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