Kwanzaa is not a holiday based on religion; it's a celebration of culture and heritage. And it's relatively young. This year is the 45th anniversary of the event created in 1966 by controversial activist Maulana Karenga, meant to be the first African American holiday.
While it's unclear how many people actually participate in the cultural observance, it is a mainstay in many homes and community centers throughout the United States and Canada. Some African Americans acknowledge the concept of Kwanzaa without formally participating in any events.
For many African Americans, Kwanzaa itself is controversial. Some eschew the concept– rejecting the notion a cultural holiday is necessary; others bristle at founder Karenga's political ideology and personal history.
The desire to acknowledge black heritage has clearly struck a cord for millions of people and sustained the concept of Kwanzaa for decades, notwithstanding its problematic founder or varying levels of observance.
From December 26 to January 1, one of seven principles is celebrated in family or community gatherings. Collectively called Kawaida- a Swahili word meaning tradition and reason- or the Nguzu Saba, the seven values would probably resonate with any family, not just African Americans.
- Umoja- Unity
- Kujichagulia- Self-Determination
- Ujima- Collective Work and Responsibilty
- Ujamaa- Cooperative Economics
- Nia- Purpose
- Kuumba- Creativity
- Imani- Faith
While Kwanzaa- which means 'first fruits'- has garnered a measure of commercial attention- including US postage stamps first offered in 1997, its original intent was that families exchange handmade gifts and shared meals to mark the occasion.
The Kwanzaa ceremony, held in community centers or homes, includes several elements. A table is draped with culturally embellished cloth- like kente, and a Mkeka- a mat made of straw or by children with construction paper is placed atop. A Kinara is the focus of the display- a candleholder which holds three red, three green and one black candle- and is accompanied by a communal cup. The decorations are completed with fresh fruits and vegetables. Gatherings may include performances, presentations and shared meals.
Area Kwanzaa Events
Crafty Kwanzaa: Brooklyn Children's Museum, 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. $7.50. 145 Brooklyn Ave. (718) 735-4400.
Kwanza Kick-off: The Central Park Conservancy and the Museum for African Art present the Central Park Kwanzaa Celebration, 3-5 p.m. Free. Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, in Central Park at E. 110th St. between Fifth Ave. and Malcolm X. Blvd. (212) 860-1370.
New Rochelle Public Library Crafts for Kids. Activities based on the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Ages 3 and up. Dec. 27, 2 and 4 p.m. (914) 632-7878
Kwanzaa Celebration: Mount Vernon Public Library Children's Celebration, 3:30 p.m. Community Celebration, 6 p.m. 28 South First Ave, Mt. Vernon, (914) 668-1840
A Kwanzaa Story: White Plains Public Library, 4:30 p.m. 1000 Martine Ave. (914) 422-1476