Kwanzaa celebrations are not as easily or readily found in the Coachella Valley as, say, Hanukkah or Christmas festivities, but they do exist. For those not familiar with the holiday, here is a primer.

Kwanzaa is an annual week-long celebration that is observed from December 26 to January 1. It was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach in 1966,

Following the Watts Riots that took place in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga was eager to create an event that would unite African-Americans.   He wanted African-Americans to have an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history instead of imitation of participation of the dominant society. He founded US, a cultural organization, and started to research African “first fruit” (harvest) celebrations. Karenga combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and those of the Zulu, to form the basis of Kwanzaa.

This celebration is based around seven major principles which are, according to Karenga, a communitarian African philosophy: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

On each of the seven nights of the weeklong celebration, families gather together and light one of the seven candles of the Kinara.  Usually a discussion about one of the specific principles takes place.

Families light one candle each night to remind them of an important value from African culture. The candles are:

  • Umoja. This candle symbolizes the value of unity and is a reminder to try and exist peacefully with family and within one’s community.
  • Kujichagulia. This candle is a reminder of self-determination or identity and is meant to encourage people to be themselves and be proud of who they are.
  • Ujima. This candle represents collective work or collaborating with neighbors and family members to find answers to problems and do good works.
  • Ujamaa. This candle is a reminder of cooperative economics or helping other members of the community prosper by doing business with one another.
  • Nia. This candle symbolizes the idea of living with the purpose of helping to elevate the African-American community and fight for equality.
  • Kuumba. This candle represents creativity, the goal of beautifying a community and leaving the world in a better state for the next generation.
  • Imani. This candle symbolizes the importance of maintaining faith when faced with struggles and oppression.

Kwanzaa also has its own symbols which include:  a decorative mat, an ear of corn, crops, the Unity Cup, gifts, the seven candles and candleholder.   All the symbols are designed to convey the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

Many African-Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa observe it as an additional celebration to Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image Sources

  • Happy Kwanzaa: Image by ooceey from Pixabay