Sister Toldja presents: Can You Keep Up for at least 7 Days?


When I tell people that my family celebrates Kwanzaa, they usually remark that I am the only person they have met in "real life" that does so. Since my parents began observing the seven-day celebration shortly after it was created in the 60's, Kwanzaa has been something very present and important to me since childhood. The values exemplified by Kwanzaa are excellent and very relevant to the African-American community. I think more of us should "Keep Up" with the Seven Principles, so I was very excited to have the chance to share a brief history of my second favorite holiday (behind International Sister Toldja Day- July 22, start saving now folks!)

Dr. Malauna Karenga, a community activist and professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University , created Kwanzaa in 1966. It began as tool of healing for the community torn by the Watts Riots of 1965. Dr Karenga also said he wanted to "...give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society." He borrowed elements from the harvest celebrations of various African cultures, including the Ashanti and the Zulu, for ideas. The name is taken from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which is Swahili for "first fruits".

There is a principle assigned to each day of Kwanzaa, which begins on December 26th. You light a candle on your kinara (candleholder) and discuss the meanings of the day's principle with your friends and family. While we pay special attention to the Seven Principles-known collectively as the Nguzo Saba in Swahili-during Kwanzaa, they are certainly to be reflected upon throughout the year.


The Nguzo Saba are:

Umoja (Unity) To build solidarity within our families and communities.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves 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 heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.


Kwanzaa celebrations typically include music (especially African drumming), dance, poetry, feasting (you know how our people love an excuse to throw down!), etc. Some people mistakenly believe that Kwanzaa is a Pagan or anti-religious holiday, likely because it falls close enough to Christmas to seem like it's competing with the Christian Holy day and because there is an emphasis on celebrating ancestral spirits that some religious folks find off-putting. However, Kwanzaa is a non-denominational holiday that was meant to be celebrated by people of all religions. Many churches celebrate Kwanzaa and have found ways to relate the Seven Principles to their message and worship.

There are many books and websites devoted to the celebration of Kwanzaa. This year, writer and filmmaker Molefi K. Asante released "The Black Candle", which is a documentary exploring the global celebration of the holiday and is narrated by none other than Maya Angelou. This year, share the gift of Kwanzaa with your friends in family! You can plan an extravagant Kwanzaa Karamu (Kwanzaa feast) or simply take the time to discuss ways in which you can connect the Nguzo Saba to your daily lives. As a people who were snatched from Africa with no claim to our original culture and traditions, Kwanzaa gives us an excellent way to connect with our history and build a better future for our people.



- Sister Toldja

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6 comments:

Renaissance Woman said...

I feel kinda bad, but this is actually the first time I've ever read about Kwanzaa! I'm 21 and that's not a good thing. I should educate myself more. That said, SisterToldja, thank you so much for educating me. I read it in its entirety because I wanted to hear more about your personal story. You let readers in and I can appreciate that any day.

Thanks for helping me 'Keep Up',
Renaissance Woman

Sartorially Savvy said...

Some friends of mine and I are actively celebrating this year, it's the first time in my adult life that I'm actively celebrating... and not just being a part of my family's celebrations

The Socialite said...

I celebrate Kwanzaa every year with a few other familes. It is always good to get together with friends and family and really reflect on our culture. Drinking to the people that have gone before us is the best part.

the uppity negro said...

My family has been doing Kwanzaa since I was four back in 1988. It's just a fixture of the holidays. My mother brought it to our old church back in that same year on Watch Night service, and our current church celebrates it as well.

It's a bit harrowing seeing as how the rest of our family doesn't celebrate it mostly because of my mother's sister who's rather religious and claimed that Kwanzaa was trying to take the place of Christmas (**rolls eyes**). Okay, personally, we did it this year and it seemed mildly lame, but I still see the need for it. All of the principles represent facets of our lives as African Americans that we most CERTAINLY need to address.

Honestly, I'm still trying to figure out what is the disconnect.

freemanpress said...

Well don't feel bad because in LA it's a little bit more prominent. You would think it wasn't us being in LA and all but it's the truth.

foxxychica said...

I think I am going to make it my business to celebrate it next year. I may even host a few gatherings for it. (I AM going to be in my own home.)

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