Friday, December 26, 2014

Celebrating Kwanzaa

By Cheryl Willis Hudson

Our family began celebrating Kwanzaa when our son and daughter were in kindergarten and grade school. My husband and I encouraged creative self-expression in our children and during their formative years we wanted to discourage the overemphasis on buying and receiving material things. So celebrating Kwanzaa (or First Fruits) was a perfect way to reinforce our family values, pass along some African-American history and have fun doing it right along with our children.

On the day after Christmas, we set up the mkeke, or a mat that served as a foundation on which to place the elements, the kinara or candleholder, the unity cup, the dried ears of corn representing each child, fruit, vegetables and small items representing African American cultural expression such as a book or a small work of art. Starting December 26th, each day before dinner, the children took turns lighting a candle and explaining the Nguzo Saba or principles of the day. By New Year's Day, January 1st, we had talked about:

Umoja - Unity
Kujichagulia - Self-determination
Ujima - Collective Work and Responsibility
Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
Nia - Purpose
Kuumba - Creativity
Imani - Faith

Our family Kwanzaa celebration was very simple but it became a ritual that Katura and Stephan looked forward every day. First of all, they were able to learn new words in the Swahili language. What child wouldn't smile when trying to pronounce Kujichagulia?

Then they challenged each other to remember the words and principles in the correct order. They both got a chance to light a series of candles and then blow them out (almost like a birthday party) and by the last couple of days they had made and exchanged handcrafted gifts (Zwadi). Finally, we had a big feast at home or celebrated a fiesta (Karumu) complete with music, dancing, family and friends on the last day of Kwanzaa.

By the seventh day, we had had so much fun celebrating Kwanzaa that we didn't want to take the decorations down. So we didn't. Now the kinara remains in a central place in our dining room all year long.

Although Kwanzaa was created as a cultural celebration for African Americans, the symbolism and rituals are valuable tools for anyone who wants to follow reasonable guidelines for being a productive member of their community. Talking out loud about the Nzguzo Saba helped our family realize that these were principles worth practicing all through the year.

We realized that family time is very precious. That it's a good thing to have family meals together rather than grabbing grub on and eating it hurriedly on the way to some other activity. It's a good practice to help children learn how to listen and how to have a meaningful conversation at the dinner table. It's good for everyone to discover the joy of doing creative work with our hands. It feels good to share something of yourself that is unique whether that is reciting a poem, reading a passage from a book, telling a joke or singing a song. The principles of Kwanzaa reinforce the value of family and community.

For very young children the principles can be explained in this way.

- Umoja translates as unity but can be simplified to mean: We help each other
- Kujichagulia translates as self-determination but can be simplified as: We define ourselves for ourselves
- Ujima translates as collective work and responsibility and can be simplified to mean: We work together in community.
- Ujamaa translates as cooperative economics and can be simplified to mean: we support each other economically.
- Nia translates as purpose and can be simplified to mean: we work and live with purpose.
- Kuumba translates as creativity and can be simplified as: we use our minds and our creativity.
- Imani translates as faith but can be translated to mean: we nurture our spirits and connect with our Creator and ancestors

The Kwanzaa seeds that were sown during our first observance have grown into a harvest for our daily lives.
A version of this article was originally published by, 2006.

Check out these children’s books about Kwanzaa and visit The Official Kwanzaa website for more information.

My First Kwanzaa Book, by Deborah Newton Chocolate

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