Interesting Facts About Kwanzaa: Celebrating African Culture and Identity

With Christmas just around the corner, it’s easy to get tunnel-vision on your particular holiday. Most of us celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, but there is a third holiday that is celebrated during the same time of the year, which is Kwanzaa.
First fact you probably didn’t know about Kwanzaa and now do: how to spell it. That one’s free. Even if you didn’t read the article you’re bestowed with knowledge you previously didn’t have.
Kwanzaa is a celebration that begins on December 26th to January 1st, honouring the African heritage in American culture. Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. Dr. Maulana Karenga created it in 1966 to celebrate African culture and to help inspire African-Americans in the United States.
Although Kwanzaa was created in the United States, and is mostly celebrated there, some other countries also celebrate African heritage. It is estimated that approximately 18 million people celebrate Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa celebrations often include poetry, stories, African dancing and drums, as well as a big feast on New Year’s Eve called Karamu.
Here are some interesting facts you may not know about this annual celebration.
1. It’s not widely celebrated in Africa. The holiday was created in, and is celebrated almost entirely in, the United States, where an estimated 18 million observe it in some way. Although in recent years, it’s been publicly acknowledged with celebrations in Jamaica, London, Toronto, and Paris.
Seven principles or values called Nguzo Saba are observed over the course of the seven days: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
2. Seven candles are lit during Kwanzaa – the first one is black, the second is red and the third is green. The remaining four candles alternate between red and green. Red, green and black are the holiday’s symbolic colors.
The three color symbols of the holiday was based on the colors of the national flag of the African-American people, which was designed by Marcus Garvey, the father of the modern Black Nationalist Movement.
3. The first US postage stamp to commemorate Kwanzaa was issued in 1997. There have been 5 designs released since then, the most recent being in 2016.
4. In addition to the seven-day tradition of lighting the candles, on each day of the celebration, observers greet one another a Swahili phrase, Habari gani, which means “What’s the news?” The response to the greeting is one of the seven principles, depending on which day of Kwanzaa it is. For instance on the first day, people will respond Umoja.
During this day, people will focus on unity – telling stories that are related to the day’s principle and doing things that will demonstrate the oneness of African-American community.
On the second day, people will answer Kujichagulia and focus on self-determination; on the third day, people will say Ujima and discuss the importance of the principle; and so on.
5. Celebrities who have been known to celebrate Kwanzaa every year include Oprah, Maya Angelou, Chuck D, Angelina Jolie, and Synthia Saint James (who designed the first Kwanzaa postage stamp.)
6. Many people associate gift-giving around the holiday season with the bounty that Santa puts under the tree. The gift-giving spirit of Kwanzaa is quite different. It is actually intentionally the exact opposite of gift giving of Christmas.
Kwanzaa was created in opposition to the consumption, price gouging, and materialistic culture that traditionally surrounds the holiday. Karenga placed Kwanzaa after Christmas, so if shopping is done, it’s for half the price.
Those celebrating Kwanzaa give modest gifts, which are often homemade and reference the principals of the holiday. These gifts are never expensive and purposefully separate themselves from the consumerism that circulates during the holiday season.
People who celebrate Kwanzaa are not supposed to add to the chaos of shopping during the holiday season. Gift-giving during Kwanzaa is truly the thought that counts. Educational gifts and gifts that relate to the holiday itself are usually the preferred gifts of the Kwanzaa holiday.
7. Homemade gifts are exchanged on the final day of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa gifts are exchanged as a way of honouring the creative spirit and reaffirming self-worth. As such, gifts are usually homemade rather than purchased.
However, the exchange of presents is far from the most important part of Kwanzaa, which is more focused on celebrating a shared heritage and coming together with family and friends to reaffirm alignment to the seven principles.

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