Kwanzaa celebration begins Dec. 26

The Kwanzaa candles, pictured above, symbolize the struggle of the African American people and their hope for the future. (Photo Special to The Record)

The Kwanzaa candles, pictured above, symbolize the struggle of the African American people and their hope for the future. (Photo Special to The Record)

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
The Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry (OMM) will hold its 35th annual Citywide Kwanzaa Celebration on Dec. 29.
The event, set for 5:30 p.m. at the Catholic Enrichment Center, 3146 W. Broadway, will include music, food, prayer, African drumming and encouragement from the elders of the community, according to organizers.

Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday that celebrates family, community and culture, said Annette Mandley-Turner, executive director of the OMM.

The seven-day holiday, which starts on Dec. 26 and ends on Jan. 1, is based on “Nguzo Saba,” which means “seven principles” in Swahili. People celebrate these principles in their homes by creating a sacred space where the symbols of the celebration are placed — a candle holder called a “Kinara” for the seven candles, a unity cup, ears of corn representing children and African art objects and books symbolizing a commitment to African heritage and learning.

The black candle, a symbol of the people, is lit on Dec. 26. The other candles — three red symbolizing the people’s struggle and three green symbolizing hope for the future — are lit on the other six days.

Turner is quick to point out that the celebration’s origins don’t exclude non-blacks from partaking.

“No one is excluded,” she said. “It’s not a black thing and it’s not a Catholic thing. It’s a people thing.”

She noted that focusing on one’s family is at the heart of the celebration. Everyone can relate to that, regardless of race, she said.

Though Kwanzaa didn’t start out as a celebration “rooted in the Christian world” Turner believes that over the years its become a blending of culture and faith with a focus on God “who created every human being.”

The seven principles, one for each day of the holiday, are also a “plan of action” to be used throughout the year, she said. They are:

  • Umoja or unity.
  • Kujichagulia or self determination.
  • Ujima, collective work and responsibility.
  • Ujamaa, cooperative economics.
  • Nia, purpose.
  • Kuumba, creativity.
  • Imani, faith.

Nia, which means purpose, is the principle that can be used to encourage young people, she said.

“You have purpose in the world. Live your life with purpose in mind.”

Kujichagulia or self determination is used, for example, to encourage married couples, she noted.

Though the city-wide celebration is coming up on it’s 35th year, Turner noted that the celebration “continues to offer some challenges as to what it is and why we celebrate.”

The word Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” meaning “first fruits” in Swahili. The celebration was “designed to affirm cultural awareness of the people from the African diaspora,” Turner said.

When Africans were brought to the United States they had to leave their cultural identity behind and were “restricted from celebrating their own identity and their own stories,” Turner said. For this reason, it was important for their decendants to “name, claim and celebrate” their African roots.

It’s important for blacks to keep celebrating Kwanzaa, Turner said, in order to pass on their culture, story and faith to the younger generation. Such a celebration can also provide hope, and everyone needs hope, she said.

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