Kwanzaa is a season of celebrating, embracing and sharing good. And it comes bringing with it drumming, dances, stories, performances and songs of celebration of African people, their families, communities and cultures, and the shared good that comes from these and is presence throughout the world. Indeed, the central message and meaning of Kwanzaa, rooted in ancient African first fruit celebrations, revolved around cultivating and sharing good in the world. It is about the sharing of the good of life and every living thing, the good of freedom, peace, justice, love and on the abundant good of the earth and all in it.
A pan-African holiday which celebrates the good of family, community and culture, Kwanzaa sees the bringing of good in the world tied to how we relate to each other, how we work with each other and how we struggle together to create the good world we all want and deserve to live in. Created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chair of the Department of Africana Studies at Cal State Long Beach and executive director of the African American Cultural Center (Us), Kwanzaa is celebrated by millions throughout the world African community on every continent in the world.
Modelling ancient African first fruit harvest celebrations, Kwanzaa is organized around five fundamental activities: the ingathering of the people to reinforce the bonds between them; special reverence for Creator and creation in thanks and thoughtful commitment and recommitment to protect, preserve and care for the earth through which the abundance is made possible; commemoration of the past in practice of the morality of remembrance of the ancestors, the way openers and world builders; recommitment to our highest ideals, which reflect the best of what it means to be African and human; and celebration of the Good of and in the world.
In his book, “Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture” (Sankore Press), Dr. Karenga states that “There is no way to understand and appreciate the meaning and message of Kwanzaa without understanding and appreciating its profound and pervasive concern with values.” Moreover, he says, “in fact, Kwanzaa’s reason for existence, its length of seven days, its core focus on its foundation are all rooted in its concern for values” and their role in bringing and sustaining good in the world.
And central to Kwanzaa’s commitment to bringing and sustaining good in the world is practicing its core values, the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, not only during Kwanzaa (December 26-January 1), but all year round. Those principles are in Swahili and English: Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith).
Kwanzaa lifts up and reaffirms these values in the candle lighting ceremony and in its call for acts of caring and loving kindness, especially toward the vulnerable. And even its primary colors speak to the special value and valuing of the people (Black), their struggles (Red) and their future forged in struggle (Green). It is in this spirit of valuing and struggling to bring a shared good in the world that Dr. Karenga states that in its most essential meaning, “the celebration of Kwanzaa is about embracing and practicing ethical principles and values, so that the goodness of the world can be shared and enjoyed by us and everyone.”