Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday celebrated from December 26 to January 1 in the United States and other countries (particularly countries in West Africa). A Pan-African holiday, it is supposed to be an alternative to Christmas (although it does start the day after Christmas, so in all likelihood there are individuals out there who celebrate both holidays, not to mention the fact that there are people other than those of African descent who celebrate Kwanzaa).
So when did Kwanzaa become a holiday? It was invented in 1966 by Ronald McKinley Everett (a.k.a. Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga, a.k.a. Ron Karenga), an African-American civil rights activist who was involved with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) before helping to establish a black nationalist group known as the US Organization (a.k.a. Organization US) in 1965. It should be noted that US stands for United Slaves.
So basically, Kwanzaa not only became just an alternative to Christmas (although some people say otherwise), but also a Black Nationalist alternative to Christmas, because Christmas (and Christianity as a whole) were considered to be for white people. Such a view has been popular among some black nationalists, particularly those who had joined the Nation of Islam.
And just how is Kwanzaa celebrated? Since it consists of seven days, each day is dedicated to one of seven principles that comprise Kawaida, a communitarian philosophy. According to the Kwanzaa’s official website, the seven principles are as follows:
• Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
• Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define and name ourselves, as well as to create and speak for ourselves.
• Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.
• Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
• Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
• Kuumba (Creativity): 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 it.
• Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
In addition, there are several symbols for Kwanzaa, which consist of:
• Mazao (The Crops): These are symbolic of African harvest celebrations and of the rewards of productive and collective labor.
• Mkeka (The Mat): This is symbolic of our tradition and history and therefore, the foundation on which we build.
• Kinara (The Candle Holder): This is symbolic of our roots, our parent people (continental Africans).
• Muhindi (The Corn): This is symbolic of our children and our future which they embody.
• Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles): These are symbolic of the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, the matrix and minimum set of values which African people are urged to live by in order to rescue and reconstruct their lives in their own image and according to their own needs.
• Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup): This is symbolic of the foundational principle and practice of unity which makes all else possible.
• Zawadi (The Gifts): These are symbolic of the labor and love of parents and the commitments made and kept by the children.
• Bendera (The Flag): The colors of the Kwanzaa flag are the colors of the Organization Us, black, red and green; black for the people, red for their struggle, and green for the future and hope that comes from their struggle. It is based on the colors given by the Hon. Marcus Garvey as national colors for African people throughout the world.
• Nguzo Saba Poster (Poster of the Seven Principles)
There is also some gift giving during Kwanzaa (although it primarily involves giving gifts to children), perhaps as a way to compete with Christmas.
It is unclear as to how many people worldwide celebrate Kwanzaa, because estimates range over the years from two million to thirty million. And those who celebrate it might have different reasons for doing so. But regardless of the reason, one thing is clear: Kwanzaa was invented by a black nationalist.
As for Kwanzaa’s popularity in the future, that remains to be seen.