Kwanzaa: A holiday of culture, tradition

As the holidays roll around, it’s easy to get caught up in the spirit of Christmas or Chanukah. But what about the spirit of Kwanzaa?

Despite some misconceptions, Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. However, it is a time to revel in many of the same comforts.

“Kwanzaa is an African American tradition that celebrates family, community and culture,” said Cynthia Pinchback-Hines, associate dean of African American Student Affairs and Ethnic Services.

Each year the African American Student Affairs and Ethic Services holds a Kwanzaa celebration. This year, the event will be from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m. Dec. 5 in the Otto Budig Theater and will feature a medley of cultural expression, a discussion of Kwanzaa and its seven principles as well as a ceremony for the holiday.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University. He is also an author and scholar-activist. The holiday was created in conjunction with the Organization of Us, which is now the authoritative keeper of its tradition.

According to the Official Kwanzaa Web site, the holiday was created to stress the “indispensable need to preserve, continually revitalize and promote African American culture.”

Although Kwanzaa was created by and for African Americans in the midst of the Black Liberation Movement, it’s celebrated across Africa as well as by people without African heritage.

“I believe that everyone should try to take part and understand the cultures of others,” said Dondra Collins, a senior electronic media broadcasting major and student worker in the African American Student Affairs and Ethnic Services. “After all, understanding and accepting cultures other than our own makes us better individuals.”

Kwanzaa centers around the seven values of the Nguzo Saba, which include (in Swahili) umaja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics,) nia (pupose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith). Karenga’s opening notes on the Web site said Kwanzaa “reflects the best of African thought and practice in its reaffirmation of the dignity of the human person in the community and culture.”

The celebration lasts from Dec. 26 until Jan. 1.

Just like the more well-known winter holidays, Kwanzaa is – most importantly – a time to come together.

“Kwanzaa, to me, means family, culture and a sense of self,” Collins said. She added that it’s also a time “to recognize the importance of community, (the African American) struggles and how we must come together to uplift one another.”