At last, Kwanzaa is finally upon us! For most people, Kwanzaa is an often-overlooked holiday immediately following Christmas. For me, personally, it was a holiday I knew little about before I became an adult, and it is now a holiday I will cherish and strive to observe with my family when they are one day born. I want this to be a staple of my life.

For those that don’t know, let’s explain Kwanzaa for what it is. According to the all-powerful Wikipedia:

Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration held in the United States and in other nations of the Western African diaspora in the Americas. The celebration honors African heritage in African-American culture, and is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a feast and gift-giving. Kwanzaa has seven core principles (Nguzo Saba). It was created by Maulana Karenga, and was first celebrated in 1966–67.

Okay, so it’s a week-long celebration honoring African heritage. Surely there’s something special about it, right? Let’s figure out how one may observe this holiday, now that Christmas is over with.

Families celebrating Kwanzaa decorate their households with objects of art, colorful African cloth such as kente, especially the wearing of kaftans by women, and fresh fruits that represent African idealism. It is customary to include children in Kwanzaa ceremonies and to give respect and gratitude to ancestors. Libations are shared, generally with a common chalice, Kikombe cha Umoja, passed around to all celebrants. Non-African Americans also celebrate Kwanzaa.

That’s not so bad. Basically, Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday that enables those of African and non-African descent to celebrate the core principles of what it means to build one’s community for the better. This is something we are sorely in need of in this day and age.

But what are the principles that form the pillars of this day? I’ll explain them below, but I must first establish that each pillar corresponds to a particular day in the Kwanzaa week, each representing a particular theme for personal reflection. As I said above, it would work wonders if the African-American community were as dedicated to hallowing this holiday and observing it as much as my Jewish brethren observe Chanukah in Autumn/Winter and Pesach [Passover] in the Spring.

As I’ve said in past writings, the power of an idea (and the mind) is one that can stop disaster before it even has the chance to get out of bed in the morning. An idea starts upstairs, and so does discipline. There’s only one thing left to do now, and it’s to explain these pillars. So let me stop being wordy.

Here they are as follows:

  • Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  • Kujichagulia: To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves. Who are you? Who am I?
  • Ujima: To build and maintain our community together by collectively solving problems and holding firm through the fire.
  • Ujamaa: To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together. Think about it.
  • Nia: Family, our mission should be to develop our community in order to restore the past imperial glories of yesteryear.
  • Kuumba: We must always strive to be the best we can be, in order to leave a more rewarding community to our children.
  • Imani: Faith is what fuels us. We must always strive for greatness. We must never let up. We must always believe in one another.

Here’s a quick recap: Family is everything. The family (and the home) must serve as the root of the community we desire growth from (and within). We must establish for ourselves an identity that is distinct from others. Are we unique? Yes, therefore we must embrace this and move forward with this as our strength. When we human beings encounter conflict, we must deal with it in a manner that builds, not destroys.

As men and women with stable family settings, identities, and defined problem-solving principles, we must help one another, bearing each other’s burdens as other communities have done in the past to great benefit. We must build and support one another, financially, philosophically, politically, spiritually, and emotionally. Freedom is coming, but we have to want it with our actions, not just our words.

We cannot afford to be dependent on others, for that is a recipe for the continued exploitation that we’ve suffered for far too long. We were once kings and queens; by supporting one another to the point of self-sustainability, our past glories will rise again, and with gusto. But these goals cannot come without a drive to win. Our determination and ambition must fuel us. If we are to succeed, we have to want to succeed. Ultimately, our faith is what fuels us, always striving for greatness, and remembering our Creator as the author and finisher of our walk in this world.

In many ways, this was as simplistic an explanation of Kwanzaa as I could possibly muster without being too detailed. I, for one, am but only a man, and my knowledge is limited. I look forward to growing in wisdom as a man with every day, week, month, and year that passes by. I desire wisdom and knowledge. Join me in this quest.

Joyous Kwanzaa!

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