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What is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is celebrated in the United States from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

The seven-day festival of Kwanzaa, which celebrates African-American heritage and culture, starts Wednesday, Dec. 26 and ends Tuesday, Jan. 1. Here are some facts about the week-long holiday.

  • Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, now chair of California State University Long Beach's Department of Africana Studies, in what he called "an audacious act of self-determination."
  • The name "Kwanzaa" comes from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza," which means "first fruits."
  • Kwanzaa's focus is the "Nguzo Saba," or the Seven Principles—unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
  • During the week, a candelabrum called a Kinara is lit, and ears of corn representing each child in the family are placed on a traditional straw mat.
  • African foods such as millet, spiced pepper balls and rice are often served. Some people fast during the holiday and a feast is often held on its final night.
  • A flag with three bars—red for the struggle for freedom, black for unity, and green for the future—is sometimes displayed during the holiday.
  • Kwanzaa is based on the theory of Kawaida, which espouses that social revolutionary change for black America can be achieved by exposing blacks to their cultural heritage.
  • A poll commissioned by the National Retail Federation and conducted by BIGresearch from Oct. 4 to Oct. 11 found that 2 percent of the 8,585 adults surveyed said they would celebrate Kwanzaa, compared to 90.5 percent who celebrate Christmas and 5.4 percent who celebrate Hanukkah.

Tell Us: Do you have any facts about Kwanzaa that you would like to share? Please write them in the comments section below.

This list was compiled with information from City News Service.

SA December 26, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Now if a Caucasian professor formed a white festival said professor would be deemed a “racist”.
Roberto December 26, 2012 at 07:09 PM
I was waiting for a liberal to explain this to you without calling you a racist...
Stanley December 26, 2012 at 07:39 PM
At least it's not a celebration of ancient fairy tales, superstitions, and invisible creatures which usually ends up with killing others with different fairy tales, superstitions, and invisible creatures.
Roberto December 26, 2012 at 08:23 PM
I'm disappointed, I thought a response would be something like it can stand on it's own merit instead of a flimsy excuse.
tbone December 27, 2012 at 01:20 AM
Ill celebrate it if there is free beer with a glass of JD on ice .
Adrian December 27, 2012 at 02:02 AM
The shoe has been on the other foot regarding the exclusivity of a holiday. I have been told that I shouldn't celebrate Christmas because I am an atheist. Now, if folks want to balk at the targeting of the African American community in the celebration of Kwanza, those same folks better open up "their" holidays to others. Exclusivity, whether based on race, religion, creed, etc, is the same beast in different costumes. I am not pointing fingers, I am just openly musing.
Adrian December 27, 2012 at 02:03 AM
Happy holidays, Roberto!
wolfcreek December 27, 2012 at 04:24 AM
It’s the same type of festival as Festivus
Vic December 27, 2012 at 05:12 AM
Festivus for the rest of us! When do the feats of strength and the airing of the grievances begin?
TVOR December 27, 2012 at 04:18 PM
If any group of people want to celebrate their own special holiday them more power to 'em. I just hope they don't demand the restofus acknowledge their special holiday.
Galactic Cannibal December 27, 2012 at 04:37 PM
What is with, this constant Black American stuff shoved, down our throats every year.. I am a white American and getting sick and tire of these minority fellow Americans always whining and grabbing the national stage.. Just SHUT up and get a life. Black Americans represent 13% of all Americans . White Americans represent 72% of all Americans . and the Others 15% So where are the seven day festivals to white Americans and their culture. I expect to be called racist for writing this . HYPOCRISY and Racism is healthy and growing in the USA. So lets have a WHITE month festival in July ..Now that would be a blast. All the white Americans up in Humboldt Co. could supply adequate "quality pot". And greedy Corp America supply the watery beer like Bud Lite and sugary sodas. And the great Rolling Stones the music. Oh i forgot the Stones are White English (cousins) So remember Black is 13% and White is 72%. WOOOPPPPPEEEEEEE KEEP IT THAT WAY
Joy December 27, 2012 at 05:30 PM
As soon as you put out the aluminum pole. (And this is Patch -- the airing of grievances happens every single day...)
popeye December 27, 2012 at 05:52 PM
ha ha ha GC. Typical Murrieta Trailor trash statement. ha ha ha
TVOR December 27, 2012 at 05:55 PM
I'm not sure there are enough white sheets to go around.
Adrian December 27, 2012 at 07:05 PM
I usually see a lot of white folks getting rowdy on St. Patrick's Day. Come to think of it, Cinco de Mayo is a bit of a white American celebration. Really; ask a Mexican national what they do to celebrate the 5th of May. They will probably just look at you eschew. White folks: 2, black folks: 1. I am joking, off course, but leave Kwanza alone.
Adrian December 27, 2012 at 07:15 PM
All joking aside, Kwanza is a cultural reaction to a group of Americans still feeling like the proverbial "them". This is the same phenomenon that inspires LGBT Pride celebrations, etc.WASP culture is still the baseline culture in America. Any deviation from that "norm" is still looked upon as a special interest group of a sort (by American society, at large). Believe me, if the tables were turned, we would see WASP based cultural events emerge. Being part of a minority group will always fuel the search for some modicum of solidarity.
Bret D. Rijke December 27, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Nothing like having a Holiday made up which exclusively supports "blackness", and is done so by a convicted violent felon. "In 1971, Karenga was sentenced to one to ten years in prison on counts of felonious assault and false imprisonment. One of the victims gave testimony of how Karenga and other men tortured her and another woman. The woman described having been stripped and beaten with an electrical cord. Karenga's former wife, Brenda Lorraine Karenga, testified that she sat on the other woman’s stomach while another man forced water into her mouth through a hose. A May 14, 1971, article in the Los Angeles Times described the testimony of one of the women: "Deborah Jones, who once was given the Swahili title of an African queen, said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vise. Karenga, head of US, also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said. They also were hit on the heads with toasters."
Shakeyconpanales December 27, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Even Black people ask WTF is Kwanza?
Adrian December 28, 2012 at 01:05 AM
Bret, that is almost like a special interest group commandeering numerous, existing holidays to support their cause. The church did just that to advance "Christianty", and some church leaders (ancient and modern) have been some pretty dubious characters.
Bret D. Rijke December 28, 2012 at 01:29 AM
@Adrian; Which has zilch to do with a convicted and violent felon starting this "holiday". Really... the whole "anti-Western" movement is getting tired. If your going to bring up events concerning the character of individuals from 1,000 years ago, then let's keep it in context. 1,000 years ago many codes of ethics were drastically different. But, as I recall, kidnapping and torture in the 1970's was still considered bad in the 1970's. But if you are trying to validate a violent felon from 45 years ago based on Church activities 1,000 years ago... go fish.
Bret D. Rijke December 28, 2012 at 01:40 AM
@Adrian; Really, what we are witnessing is the "distancing" of America. Study upon study has proven that the most diverse societies are also the most fractured and distrustful. Whether that is wrong or right, or whether that is good or bad is not for me to say. I am only looking at the results. So I am not surprised to see groups drift toward their own distinct interests and cultural strengths. No matter how much money the feds spend on diversity, no matter how many "feel good" moments Hollywood produces, no matter how badly the schools change the curriculum to protray a blessed PC future, people everywhere always seek their own. So if they want Kwanzaa... good for them. If I don't want it... good for me. Freedom of Association.
SPB December 28, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Everyone knows toaster clubbing is the traditional way to spend the 3rd day of kwanza. Yeesh! Have some cultural sensitivity.
Adrian December 28, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Bret, I am not trying to validate a violent criminal. I am just pointing out that dubious beginnings are not unique to Kwanza.
One Voice December 28, 2012 at 02:54 AM
I don't get it, in November there was a Mexican Holiday where everyone dressed up like a skeleton to honor the dead and now this black Holiday. I don't ever remember these Holidays in the past, why are they becoming public news now? We are all Americans no matter what color we are, don't we all celebrate July 4th, Labor Day, Memorial Day and Easter along with the others, without reference to race? Why is it now that all the Holidays have some kind of segregation attached to them in reference to culture and color. I thought we were beyond that?
Bret D. Rijke December 28, 2012 at 03:13 AM
@ SPB; Touche!
Adrian December 28, 2012 at 03:49 AM
One voice, regarding the Dia de Los Muertos and other such holidays, I like to imagine that we are getting to a point where more and more of the individual characteristics of our constituent culturals are making inroads into the mainstream. Perhaps that is uncharadteristically optimistic of me, but it's better (in my mind) than seeing it as a fractionation into culturally exclusive celebrations. While Kwanza is more unilaterally targeted at a single culture when compared to other holiday traditions, I welcome the chance to revel in a diverse array of observance.
Adrian December 28, 2012 at 03:54 AM
One voice, to continue, I would like to think that these new holidays (in terms of their entrance into the American holiday lexicon) will soon join the ranks of other, culturally specific holidays and become just plain, unqualified American days of celebration. St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo, etc have their origin in small segments of the proverbial melting pot. I am happy to see that they are now welcomed into the collective, American spirit (although many see them as merely excuses to over imbibe). Maybe one day, celebrating Dia de los Muertos will be second nature.
Bret D. Rijke December 28, 2012 at 05:59 AM
@Adrian Response page 1: You wrote, “I like to imagine that we are getting to a point where more and more of the individual characteristics of our constituent culturals are making inroads into the mainstream.” I’m not attempting to split hairs or de-construct your sentiments, but there is a glaring flaw, or inconsistency with what you are wishing for and what is actually occurring. It is not so much that these other cultural holidays are assimilating into the mainstream as much as they are being forced into the mainstream, via peppy optimism and feel good editorials, while at the same time we see the still majority and long steeped Western based holidays steadily eroded and derided. It is one thing entirely different for a dominant culture to embrace and enjoin a set of distinctly differing celebratory dates of a minority population willingly. But while we “pretend” that is occurring, holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Columbus Day are vilified and exposed to a level of official intolerance that would never dare be visited upon the burgeoning holidays such as Kwanzaa, Cinco de Mayo, and others.
Bret D. Rijke December 28, 2012 at 06:00 AM
@Adrian Response page 2: So of course when this occurs, the predictable response from the still majority and host culture will be anything but enthusiastic. Sure, as you aptly pointed out, there are those who will grasp at any opportunity in which to revel and consume adult beverages at an increased rate, but in the end the “spirit” of the cultural holiday is ignored, if ever really understood. Rather than allow a minority to enjoy their respective holiday, the media, educational facilities, and government is complicit in an attempt to seek an equal footing between the holidays by the steady eradication of the former. This then, rather than reflecting the current mood and trending of the population, is only instigating resistance and agitating the majority culture. And this of course is not any way to encourage and foster natural assimilation and strengthening of any nation. Would you agree?
TVOR December 29, 2012 at 02:36 AM
I guess the thing that bothers me about Kwaanza is that it is as if it encourages people of a certain race to sort of turn a little more away from Americanism. I may well be wrong to feel that way but this "holiday" clearly focuses on non-american themes. I hope to live to see the day when all Americans are truly equal and there is no group of people who feel they are not given the same chance as others because of something like the color of their skin. The reality is that we are human beings and as such we have instincts that lead us to find differences in others. This instinct probably had an important function when humans were only a step away from wild animals. Maybe it was how natural selection ensured the survival of only the strongest of our species. In modern times, these instincts serve no purpose beyond trying to establish a social position in our society. People should be judged for their individual contributions to our species and our society, not for the failings of other members of their social group.

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