Kwanzaa celebrations focus on community, family

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 – Nguzo Saba, the Swahili term that means The Seven Principles, serves as the foundation of Kwanzaa, an African-American and Pan-African holiday celebration observed throughout the world every Dec. 26 – Jan. 1 for the past 40 years.

Kwanzaa, or matunda ya kwanza, is a Swahili term that means “first fruits.” Participants reflect upon and celebrate family, community and culture within African and African-American communities. Its origin dates back to the “first fruits” celebrations recorded in African history as far back as ancient Egypt.

The modern-day version of this festival was created in 1966 during the Black Consciousness Movement by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of the Department of Black Studies at California State University. Karenga also serves as chair of Organization Us and the National Association of Kawaida Organizations (NAKO).

Kwanzaa builds on the five fundamental activities of Continental African “first fruit” celebrations: harvesting, reverence, commemoration, recommitment and celebration.

One of the central rituals is the lighting of the mishumaa (or seven candles), in which one candle is lit each day for one of each of the seven principles:

Umoja (Unity)
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
Nia (Purpose)
Kuumba (Creativity)
Imani (Faith)

The last day of Kwanzaa, Jan. 1, is called the Day of Assessment or Meditation. Individuals take time for self-reflection, meditation on the future of the community and recommitment to family and cultural values.

Ayo Handy-Kendi, founder of the Washington, D.C.-based African American Holiday Association, recently commented on the importance of the holiday on the organization’s Web site. “We feel that Kwanzaa is healthier than the commercial Christmas for people of color,” wrote Handy-Kendi. “With its focus on values, family gatherings, community empowerment, healthy eating, collective effort and spiritual reverence, Kwanzaa has helped to foster healing and unity amongst Black people, as many have incorporated the principles of Kwanzaa into their daily lives and their communities with positive results.”

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Nguzo Saba: The Principles and Practice of Bringing Good into the World.”

Some families and communities hold individual Kwanzaa celebrations, while public events include lectures, poetry readings, dancing, singing, drumming and feasting.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will feature a performance by the Dance Institute of Washington, Dec. 28-29 at 8 p.m., that will bring Nguzo Saba to life through dance, song and poetry.

For more information about the history of Kwanzaa, and to learn how to plan your own celebration, visit the official Kwanzaa Web site. For more information about the Kennedy Center performance, visit the Kennedy Center Web site.

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