5 Facts You May Not Know About Kwanzaa
Learn where the holiday is celebrated and who participates.
Kwanzaa celebrations have been observed from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 each year since 1966. Despite the holiday’s decades of existence, misperceptions about Kwanzaa abound. Is the holiday religious or secular? Is it for blacks only? Is it just celebrated in the United States? These are some of the most common questions about the holiday. With the list below, clarify your understanding of Kwanzaa. The holiday is based on the first fruits celebrations of Africa, and seven tenets: Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith).
Kwanzaa Is Not a Christmas Substitute: Although some Christian pastors have raised concerns about Kwanzaa because they believe the holiday detracts from the birth of Christ, Kwanzaa does not aim to compete with Christmas or any other religious observance, according to the official Kwanzaa website. “Africans of all faiths can and do celebrate Kwanzaa…, for what Kwanzaa offers is not an alternative to their religion or faith but a common ground of African culture which they all share and cherish.”
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Most Blacks Don’t Celebrate Kwanzaa: Although Kwanzaa has a reputation for being a black holiday, the fact is, most African Americans don’t observe the celebration. Keith Mayes, author of Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition, estimates that no more than 2 million African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa. The National Retail Foundation has reported that 4.7 million, or roughly 13 percent of African Americans, observe the holiday.
People of All Racial Backgrounds Can Celebrate Kwanzaa: Kwanzaa is an Afrocentric holiday, but it is not exclusively reserved for African Americans. Just as people from a variety of ethnic groups participate in St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo celebrations or Native American powwows, people from a range of cultures can participate in Kwanzaa.
Some Africans Observe Kwanzaa: Kwanzaa may have launched in the United States, but today people from all over the world celebrate it, including Africans. About 40 million people worldwide reportedly celebrate Kwanzaa. The celebration has grown in popularity among Africans because, “it speaks to our need and appreciation for its cultural vision and life- affirming values, values which celebrate and reinforce family, community, and culture,” according to the official Kwanzaa website.
Kwanzaa’s Commercialization: The black nationalist movement may have given Kwanzaa its start, but the holiday is now mainstream. The U.S. Postal Service issued the first Kwanzaa stamp in 1997. Kwanzaa holiday cards are available from major retailers such as Hallmark, and companies such as McDonald’s have embraced the holiday. Critics of Kwanzaa’s commercialization say that exchanging homemade gifts during the celebration can counter corporate appropriation.