The Value of Kwanzaa
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 reasserting our self-identity and self-determination and breaking free from an oppressive Eurocentric imperialist worldview and culture. It was designed to create and build an appreciation for unity, traditional African values, empowerment and community.
Since its creation in the US, Kwanzaa has spread around the world and is now accepted and celebrated as an established holiday. 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 African while others resisted learning about it, learning the words or they poo-pooed the principles behind it.
There were others who embraced the concept and keep the Kwanzaa traditional despite its detractors. Kwanzaa has value regardless of its detractors. What the detractors failed to realize is all holy days (holidays) are man made, 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. 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 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 celebrate them without question.
Kwanzaa was created and based upon African and indigenous traditions. It has no institutional 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?
Kwanzaa is not a threat to your pastor, or your religious doctrines and dogma if you are a Christian. 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. 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; which is 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.
Kwanzaa is a celebration based upon ancient traditions. 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.
Nevertheless, 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 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 a vision for us and our community. During times like these the principles of Kwanzaa should make it more attractive and valuable, even if its virtual. Happy Kwanzaa!