Kwanzaa is a harvest celebration based on traditional African principles. The holiday is celebrated by African-Americans, Africans, and people throughout the African Diaspora. Kwanzaa is a Swahili word that means “first” and signifies the first fruits of the harvest and is celebrated from December 26 through January 1.
In 1966, Maulana Ron Karenga developed the observation of Kwanzaa in response to the riots of the mid-1960s. Kwanzaa is that time when we reflect on our use of the basic principles, share and enjoy the fruits of our labor, and recommit ourselves to the collective achievement of a better life for our family, our community, and our people. This past year was the 30th anniversary of Charlotte’s first Kwanzaa celebration. Dr. Rev Sheldon Shipman and Toni Tupponce both agreed that Charlotte’s 2013 Kwanzaa celebration was of the most well attended celebration since its inception.
During the celebration of Kwanzaa, it is customary to greet friends and family with the Swahili phrase, “Habari Gani”, which means, “What is the news?” To respond, answer with the principle of the day (Umoja, the principle of December 26th, which means unity). Fasting, or abstaining from food, is often done during Kwanzaa, as a means of cleansing of the mind, soul, and spirit.
The Candlelighting Ceremony
The candlelighting ceremony, central to the celebration of Kwanzaa, takes place at a time when all members of the family are present. Children are encouraged to take an active role in all activities.
The ceremony begins with the TAMBIKO (libation), an African form of praise which pays homage to personal and collective ancestors. To begin, the elder of the household pours wine, juice or distilled spirits from the KIKOMBE CHA UMOJA (unity cup) into the earth or an earth-filled vessel. While pouring, the elder makes a statement honoring departed family members for the inspiration and values they have left with descendants. Friends are also remembered.