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Kwanzaa: A tradition in empowerment serves as alternative holiday

in Africa & the Diaspora/Customs & Cultures by
Photo by Wanyoike Mbugua

For African Americans, or people of African descent who have been living in the United States since enslavement, the celebration of Kwanzaa starts on December 26 and ends New Year’s Day.

A custom created out of Black nationalist movements of the 1960s, and more specifically created by members of the US Organization, led by Maulana Karenga, the 7-day celebration uses principles of empowerment to bolster race and cultural pride. For each day, a principle serves as a daily theme for people of African descent to practice and reflect upon. Instead of English, in Kwanzaa, the principles (umoja, kujichagulia, ujima, ujaama, nia, kuumba, imani), called the Nguzo Saba, are in Ki-Swahili.

Celebrants of Kwanzaa are asked to gather daily while dressed in traditional African clothing to light a candle held in holder similar to the Jewish menorah. The candles are in the colors used in the Black liberation flag: red, Black and green. At the lightings, performances such as dancing, singing and poetry readings occur.

While some Kwanzaa participants only observe the holiday, often people choose to perform Christmas and the Black liberation holiday in a nod to the multiple values and  beliefs among different family members

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