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Celebrating Kwanzaa

Freedom Center Voices
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December 26, 2020

Celebrating Kwanzaa

Dr. Maulana Keranga founded Kwanzaa in 1966 after being inspired to bring unity to the nation after years of civilian turmoil and cultural detachment in African American communities. It is a holiday celebrated in the United States, for one week, from December 26th to January 1st each year mostly by African Americans. The holiday is guided by seven principles, one chosen for each day of the week-long celebration. These principles guide celebrators to practice philosophies that channel positivity in our lives. These seven principles are unity, self-determination, collective work, responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Each day of the week gifts are shared to represent the different principles.

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In the past, some were apprehensive to celebrate because they feared it conflicted with Christmas, a traditionally Christian holiday. “Kwanzaa” is derived from the Swahili language, while the seven principles are typically represented in Swahili as well. The founder of this celebration Dr. Keranga, yearned for the Black communities across America to have stronger cultural ties and traditions since many African traditions were stripped from Black Americans through the duration of slavery. During the week of celebration seven candles are lit. Specific crops and harvest are chosen to represent the holiday. They are laid out across tables in homes to represent what the word Kwanzaa means, which is “first harvest.”

You don’t have to be African American to celebrate Kwanzaa, especially not to share in its purpose. Rather than being a religious holiday, Kwanzaa celebrates culture and tradition. So, no matter your beliefs anyone can honor this special time, bringing together family to try out new traditions such as African head wrapping or dancing. Kwanzaa is celebrated across countries all over the world, not just in the United States. Kwanzaa’s origin language of Swahili is spoken in the African countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.

Asia Harris, Youth Programs Manager
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Asia is an alumna of Hampton University. Her background in English encourages her to constantly dive deeper into literature to learn how historical knowledge can shape and empower the American youth of today. She enjoys cooking, summer traveling and cuddling up with a good book.
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