Junious Ricardo Stanton
From December 26th to January 1, millions of people around the world participate and experience Kwanzaa, a celebration based upon African and indigenous people’s values and traditions. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga at a time when Diasporan Africans were breaking free from an oppressive Eurocentric hegemonic worldview and culture. It was designed to create and build a set of common core values, instill an appreciation for unity and build a foundation for empowerment and community renewal. Since its creation in the US, Kwanzaa is now accepted and celebrated as an established holiday all around the world!
Over the years the celebration has had its detractors. Some opposed it because they thought it threatened or competed with Christmas. Some said it was “a made up holiday”, some said or implied it was too Black, that it was not really African while others resisted learning about it, learning the words or they trivialized the principles behind it.
Others embraced the concept and have faithfully kept the Kwanzaa tradition despite its detractors. What the detractors fail to realize is all holy days (holidays) are man made, they are all invented or “made up”; every single one of them. Each and every holiday in existence is the creation of the ethnic groups, institutions and culture who invented them for their own particular reasons to meet their specific needs. Every holiday in every ethnic group and every culture was “made up”. They were created by that particular group to meet a specific need, to generate a common esprit décor among the people or to mold a belief or way of being within the group..
Christmas or the Christ Mass is a made up holiday. It was invented by the founders of the Catholic Church to reinforce their story about the birth of Jesus. The “Church Fathers” decreed that Jesus’ birth was on December 25th. The fact that December 25th coincides with the Winter Solstice which was also the stated time of the births of other avatars and savior gods which predated Christianity by hundreds of years is no coincidence.
Every holiday we celebrate in this country is made up. The Fourth of July is a made up holiday as are: Hanukkah, Easter, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Carnival, Bastille Day, Mardi Gras and Juneteenth. Yet we don’t question them or their significance do we? No. Many are based upon myths or other people’s culture yet we still acknowledge and celebrate them without question.
Kwanzaa is based upon African and indigenous traditions. It has no religious significance whatsoever, it is not a religious holiday, nor was it designed to compete with Hanukkah or Christmas. Yes Kwanzaa is African inspired and Black, so what? It was created at a time when liberation minded Blacks were attempting to assert our agency, encourage empowerment, and establish an identity free from our externally induced internalized self-hatred. What’s wrong with focusing on Blackness, Black empowerment, family, community and unity? What’s inappropriate about wanting a wholesome community, harmony, togetherness, cohesion and prosperity, especially in times like these?
Kwanzaa is not a threat to Christianity, your pastor, or your religious doctrines and dogma. Kwanzaa is no threat to your Imam or Koran’s teachings if you are a Muslim or any other religion for that matter.
As far as learning new words is concerned, we do it all the time! Black people are always making up slang words and phrases or changing the meaning of English words, its part of our rhythm, creative swag and hipness. Eventually our slang almost always becomes part of the American vocabulary and lexicon.
We should be open minded and willing to learn about our past, synthesize what we’ve learned and apply it for the betterment of our lives. This is the essence of wisdom, what our African ancestors called Sankofa; an Akan word which means “to go back and fetch”. Dr. Karenga was encouraging us to look back, to learn about and from our history, our greatness and apply it to our daily lives.
The word Kwanzaa means “first fruits” harkening to a time when African people were close to the land, planting, harvesting, raising animals and being thankful for nature’s bounty. But most of us are urban dwellers in a post industrial transitional society today, we don’t know much about agriculture or the deep significance of living and working close to nature. We need to learn about nature, the cycles of the sun, moon and stars because they are part of our legacy and traditions.
Another good thing about Kwanzaa is, it’s not a materialistic celebration; you won’t go into debt celebrating Kwanzaa. Kuumba is one of the seven principles which means creativity; we are encouraged to use our imaginations to make gifts rather than going to the store and buying. Kwanzaa tasks us to envision a better reality for ourselves as a people.
We are becoming too materialistic, too obsessed with gizmos and gadgets to our own detriment. We are becoming too detached from ourselves and our families. Technology is minimizing face to face, soul to soul interaction to the point we think pushing a button to like something means we’ve taken concrete action. We think joining a social network means we have real friends but the fact of the matter is, we don’t interact with these people on meaningful levels.
Kwanzaa is about gathering together, it encourages being socially engaged and interactive with family, friends and the community, sharing common values (the seven principles) and reinforcing a positive vision for ourselves and our community. During times like these the principles of Kwanzaa should make it even more attractive and valuable. Happy Kwanzaa!