Kwanzaa History

 

Kwanzaa is celebrated to honor universal African heritage and culture. This is a seven day long celebration. This African American holiday is observed from 26th December to 1st January every year. The credit of its origin goes to Maulana Karenga, who was an African-American activist and director of the Black Studies department at the California State University, Long Beach. Kwanzaa is a cultural festival. Karenga formed the basis of Kwanzaa by combining the aspects of various harvest celebrations. It has seven core principles. Every evening a candle-lighting ceremony is held which gives the people an opportunity to discuss about the meaning of Kwanzaa. Religion is not associated with it. A rich account about the Kwanzaa history is harmonized in the account below. 

History of Kwanzaa

  • Kwanzaa was created by Maulana Karenga in the year 1966.

  • This was created as a particularly African American holiday. According to Maulana Karenga his goal was to “give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.”

  • The name ‘Kwanzaa’ is derived from the phrase of Swahili language- ‘matunda ya kwanza’. It means first fruits of the harvest.

  • The choice of Swahili which is a language of the East Africa reflects its grade as a symbol of Pan-Africanism, mainly in the sixth decade of the past century.

  • Some of the celebrations that are held on Kwanzaa include storytelling, songs and dances, African drums poetry, and of course, a scrumptious traditional meal.


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Origin of Kwanzaa

  • The roots of Kwanzaa are in the Black Nationalist movement of the sixth decade of 19th century. It was established as a means to facilitate African Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage.

  • They were made to do so by uniting in reflection and study of African traditions and Nguzu Saba, the ‘seven principles of blackness’. Karenga called it “a communitarian African philosophy”.

  • The United States Postal Service issued the first Kwanzaa stamp on 22nd October, 1997. Synthia Saint James is credited for its artwork. Daniel Minter designed another Kwanzaa stamp. It was issued in 2004. The new stamp has seven figures in vivid robes denoting the seven principles .


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Early Years of Kwanzaa

  • Karenga said during the early years of Kwanzaa, that it was intended to be an option to Christmas and Christianity was a white religion that black people should ignore.

  • When mainstream adherents expanded Kwanzaa, Karenga changed his position so that practicing Christians would not be separated.

  • He stated in the 1997 Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, “Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday.” Therefore, Kwanzaa history has a noble motive which was sure to be popularized.

  • The background of Kwanzaa is not shrouded in mystery. Its origins are explicitly acknowledged by those who promote this holiday.

  • Several Christian African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa do so in addition to observation of Christmas. This festival is based on several elements of the first harvest celebrations extensively celebrated in Africa, around the 10th month of the year. Kwanzaa history explains about the intention behind this festival. No wonder, it is recognized by millions throughout America and is the fastest growing holiday in the U.S.


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Popularity of Kwanzaa

Over the years Kwanzaa has gained immense popularity. Maulana Karenga delivered a speech in 2006 in which he claimed that around 28 million people celebrate Kwanzaa; however in 2009, the African American Cultural Center put the figure at 30 million. Individually, Lee D Baker put the figure of the number of people who celebrate at 12 million and in 2011, University of Minnesota professor Keith Mayes stated that it was 2 million. Meanwhile, in the year 2004, a survey was conducted by BIG Research for the National Retail Foundation. As per the survey, around 1.6 percent of the people intended to celebrate the festival. Converted into figures it meant that some 4.7 million people were planning to celebrate the festival in 2004. Over the years, the popularity of the festival has crossed the border of USA and is now equally popular in Canada.