Conceived in 1966, Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday, celebrated between December 26 and January 1. The seven days represent seven principles to unite African-American communities. On each day, some families gather to reflect or demonstrate a principle.
The seven principles of Kwanzaa are based on the basic values of African culture, or Nguzo Saba, in Swahili. While the traditions do include some gift giving, the presents are intended primarily for children -- and even then, always include a book and a symbol of heritage.
For some, Kwanzaa has waned in recent years. On his show Totally Biased, comedian W. Kamau Bell recently noted that only a handful of people even celebrate the holiday:
Bell has also noted that the holiday has become a multicultural marketing tool. Professor Keith Mayes of the University of Minnesota believes that a commercialized Kwanzaa portrays the holiday as a signifier that we live in a “post-racial” society -- which we don’t. He says:
Part of Kwanzaa's embrace by multicultural America is self-serving. Whereas black power uses Kwanzaa to connect black Americans with the continent of Africa, multicultural America uses Kwanzaa to sell products and consumer goods. Whereas black power expected Kwanzaa to liberate African-Americans, multicultural America has tried to use Kwanzaa as evidence of racial diversity and black inclusion.
So instead of a traditional “gift guide,” full of things you can wrap up with a bow, I’ve found some gifts that foster thoughtful celebration and discovery – both of this holiday itself, and of the community at large. Read on for suggestions on ways to reflect meaningfully on each of the principles of Kwanzaa.
The 1st Day: Unity
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Give the gift of togetherness. Celebrate the first day of Kwanzaa with friends and family at a small gathering at your home, church or a restaurant. About.com suggests finding group events and activities to celebrate with other people (only 13% of African-Americans celebrate the holiday):
Check local newspaper listings, black churches, cultural centers or museums to find out where to celebrate Kwanzaa in your community. If an acquaintance of yours celebrates Kwanzaa, ask for permission to attend a celebration with her. However, it would be offensive to go as a voyeur who doesn’t care about the day itself but is curious to see what it’s about. Go because you agree with the principles of the day and are committed to implementing them in your own life and community.
The 2nd Day: Self-Determination
Image Credit: Yasmin Shiraz/Touchstone
Give the gift of leadership. Are you fully participating in your in family and community? Today is the day to reflect on what you and your family can do to organize for social rights and justice both within your community, or how to make strides in strengthening your own life. The Blueprint for My Girls: How to Build a Full Life of Courage, Determination and Self Love by Yasmin Shiraz is an excellent book to read on this day, or to give as a gift to young women.
The 3rd Day: Collective Work and Responsibility
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Give the gift of your time. While the need for volunteers for the holiday season starts in early December, there is always a great need for people to help others. Helping out at a religious or spiritual institution, a mission or a food bank is a way to help others, and to spread holiday cheer. As Kwanzaa is centered on embracing and enhancing community spirit, today is also a great day to research what community organizations in your neighbourhood are focused on helping others in the black community, such as youth centers or a mentorship program, such as :
Mentor Peer Resources has an extensive list of mentor programs across North America where people can volunteer their time to help youth from various ethno-cultural and social backgrounds.
Based out of Chicago, The Black Youth Project “explores the attitudes, actions, and decision making of black youth by Including their lives, ideas, and voices.” On their “action” page, they provide a list of initiatives where people can participate in the project.
Advocates for Youth provides information on a number of programs directed towards education youth on health issues, most notably, Young Women of Color Leadership Council, which promotes HIV prevention in at-risk communities across North America.
The 4th Day - Cooperative Economics:
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Give back to your community. Known as Ujamaa, cooperative economics is to utilize community resources in order to provide a steady growth in your community. This could mean making a commitment to shop locally, to sourcing out black-owned or community-run organizations in which a percentage of profits are designated for community development or individual initiatives. Alternately, this is a great day to watch Lackawanna Blues, as the movie provides a great example of community organizing.
The 5th and 6th Days: Purpose and Creativity
Image Credit: Knight Foundation
Give the gift of education. The definition for purpose is “ To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.” Creativity means “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.”These go hand-in hand with collective work and responsibility, in which effort into building community spirit is important. On these days, think about what you can do to help educate others not only of African history, but take your kids or your partner to a museum for inspiration that can be utilized to make a difference in your community. For instance, theAfrican-American Museum of Iowahas a special exhibit on Kwanzaa.
The 7th Day: Faith
Candle, Image Credit: Shutterstock
Give the gift of hope. This is a day for reflecting on how our families, friends, our teachers and leaders have influenced our lives in a positive way. Today, deliver small gifts to those who have influenced you. Gifting Resource Center offers a number of ideas as to what to give this holiday season.
Esteemed poet Maya Angelou narrated the film The Black Candle, which can / should be watched over the seven days, and Scholastic offers a number of activities for teachers that can be used by parents to inform their children about Kwanzaa. Happy Holiday!
Contributing Editor - Race, Ethnicity & Culture
Blog: Writing is Fighting: www.lainad.typepad.com
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