When We Say Happy Holidays

Now and again when I wish someone Happy Holidays
they reply in return wishing me happiness during their
special celebration. This is much appreciated but we can
also remember the holiday season is a complex time full of
many ways of experiencing the joy of the winter season. I
have enjoyed learning about Kwanzaa and now share parts of this piece
from the History Channel online to enrich our knowledge of yet another way
to experience the joy of family and community.
Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at
California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966.
After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga searched for ways
to bring African Americans together as a community. He founded US,
a cultural organization, and started to research African “first
fruit” (harvest) celebrations. Karenga combined aspects of several
different harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and
those of the Zulu, to form the basis of Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa History
The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya
kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Each family celebrates
Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and
dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large
traditional meal. On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and
a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder), then
one of the seven principles is discussed. The principles, called the
Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili) are values of African culture
which contribute to building and reinforcing community among
African Americans. Kwanzaa also has seven basic symbols which
represent values and concepts reflective of African culture. An
African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31.
Did you know? The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba are a set of
ideals created by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Each day of Kwanzaa
emphasizes a different principle. The candle-lighting ceremony each
evening provides the opportunity to gather and discuss the meaning
of Kwanzaa. The first night, the black candle in the center is lit (and
the principle of umoja/unity is discussed). One candle is lit each
evening and the appropriate principle is discussed.
Seven Principles
The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba are a set of ideals created by
Dr. Maulana Karenga. Each day of Kwanzaa emphasizes a different
Unity:Umoja (oo–MO–jah)—To strive for and maintain unity in
the family, community, nation, and race.
Self-determination: Kujichagulia (koo–gee–cha–goo–LEE–yah)—
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak
for ourselves.
Collective Work and Responsibility: Ujima (oo–GEE–mah)—To
build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s
and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
Cooperative Economics: Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah)—To build and
maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit
from them together.
Purpose: Nia (nee–YAH)—To make our collective vocation the
building and developing of our community in order to restore our
Diversity—Cindy Goldberg, Co-Chair people to their traditional greatness.
Creativity: Kuumba (koo–OOM–bah)—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
Faith: Imani (ee–MAH–nee)—To believe with all our
heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders,
and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Seven Symbols
The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba are a set of ideals
created by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Each day of Kwanzaa
emphasizes a different principle.
Mazao, the crops (fruits, nuts, and vegetables)—
Symbolizes work and the basis of the holiday. It represents
the historical foundation for Kwanzaa, the gathering of the
people that is patterned after African harvest festivals in
which joy, sharing, unity, and thanksgiving are the fruits of
collective planning and work. Since the family is the basic
social and economic center of every civilization, the
celebration bonded family members, reaffirming their
commitment and responsibility to each other.
Mkeka: Place Mat—The mkeka, made from straw or
cloth, comes directly from Africa and expresses history,
culture, and tradition. It symbolizes the historical and
traditional foundation for us to stand on and build our lives
because today stands on our yesterdays, just as the other
symbols stand on the mkeka.
Vibunzi: Ear of Corn—The stalk of corn represents
fertility and symbolizes that through the reproduction of
children, the future hopes of the family are brought to life.
One ear is called vibunzi, and two or more ears are called
mihindi. Each ear symbolizes a child in the family, and thus
one ear is placed on the mkeka for each child in the family.
Mishumaa Saba: The Seven Candles—Candles are
ceremonial objects with two primary purposes: to re-create
symbolically the sun’s power and to provide light. The
celebration of fire through candle burning is not limited to
one particular group or country; it occurs everywhere.
Mishumaa saba are the seven candles: three red, three
green, and one black. The back candle symbolizes Umoja
(unity), the basis of success, and is lit on December 26. The
three green candles, representing Nia, Ujima, and Imani, are
placed to the right of the Umoja candle, while the three red
candles, representing Kujichagulia, Ujamaa, and Kuumba,
are placed to the left of it. During Kwanzaa, one candle,
representing one principle, is lit each day. Then the other
candles are relit to give off more light and vision.
Kinara: The Candleholder—The kinara is the center of
the Kwanzaa setting and represents the original stalk from
which we came: our ancestry. The kinara can be any shape–
straight lines, semicircles, or spirals–as long as the seven
candles are separate and distinct, like a candelabra. Kinaras
are made from all kinds of materials, and many celebrants
create their own from fallen branches, wood, or other
natural materials. The kinara symbolizes the ancestors, who
were once earth bound; understand the problems of human
life; and are willing to protect their progeny from danger,
evil, and mistakes.
Kikombe Cha Umoja: The Unity Cup—The kikombe cha
umoja is a special cup that is used to perform the libation
(tambiko) ritual during the Karamu feast on the sixth day of
Kwanzaa. In many African societies libations are poured for the
living dead whose souls stay with the earth they tilled. The Ibo
of Nigeria believe that to drink the last portion of a libation is to
invite the wrath of the spirits and the ancestors; consequently,
the last part of the libation belongs to the ancestors. During the
Karamu feast, the kikombe cha umoja is passed to family
members and guests, who drink from it to promote unity. Then,
the eldest person present pours the libation (tambiko), usually
water, juice, or wine, in the direction of the four winds – north,
south, east, and west–to honor the ancestors. The eldest asks
the gods and ancestors to share in the festivities and, in return,
to bless all the people who are not at the gathering.
Zawadi: Gifts—When we celebrate Imani on the seventh day
of Kwanzaa, we give meaningful zawadi (gifts) to encourage
growth, self-determination, achievement, and success. We
exchange the gifts with members of our immediate family,
especially the children, to promote or reward accomplishments
and commitments kept, as well as with our guests. Handmade
gifts are encouraged to promote self-determination, purpose,
and creativity and to avoid the chaos of shopping and
conspicuous consumption during the December holiday season.
Excerpted from the book: The Complete Kwanzaa Celebrating
Our Cultural Harvest. Copyright 1995 by Dorothy Winbush Riley.
Fondly submitted for the Diversity Committee

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