You probably know of two major celebrations that happen near the end of each year: Christmas and Hanukkah. You may not know that there is a third celebration: Kwanzaa (pronounced QUAN-zuh). It takes place from December 26 to January 1.Christmas and Hanukkah are religious in nature and had their beginnings long ago in another part of the world. Kwanzaa is not religious – though it has much to do with people getting along with each other. It’s newer and began in the United States.Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966. He was looking for a way that African Americans could feel more like a community and celebrate the things they have in common.It’s important to know that the term African American (or Afro-American) has  different meanings for different people. Some people believe that African American means people whose ancestors were brought to this country from Africa as slaves. Some people believe that African American  means any black person whose people came from Africa for any reason – even if their ancestors came here on purpose seeking a better life. Some people use African American to mean any black American no matter where they came from.For the celebration of Kwanzza, any of these definitions is okay. You will see why in a few minutes.During the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s, around 12.5 million Africans were captured, taken from their countries, brought to North and South America, and forced to work as slaves. As time went by, those people forgot their languages and customs. Many didn’t know what countries they had been stolen from.After the U.S. Civil War, (which ended in 1865) slaves were freed, but many thousands of black people had a hard time feeling like they were part of America. Though they were no longer slaves, many blacks were treated unfairly by white people. And even if they settled in communities with other blacks, many were from different countries in Africa and shared no common heritage.Dr. Karenga searched for something that would help blacks appreciate their African roots, and at the same time, celebrate being Americans. What he came up with was Kwanzaa.Part of celebrating the seven days of Kwanzaa includes learning African songs and dances, beating out rhythms on African drums, telling African folk tales or stories of ones own family, reading African poems, and eating traditional African foods. Even if someone doesn’t know which country in Africa their family came from, these activities help them feel a connection to that far-off continent and be thankful for the connection.The most important part of Kwanzaa, though, centers around lighting seven candles, one on each evening.The candles are held in a holder called a Kinara. There are three red candles on the left, three green candles on the right, and one black candle in the center.There are seven principles or ideas. Each evening when one of the candles is lit, people discuss one of the ideas.These seven ideas are called Nguza Saba.  (Nguza is Swahili for pillar, and saba means seven .) Here they are, with their English and Swahili names:Unity (Umoja)Self-determination (Kujichagulia)Collective work and responsibility (Ujima)Cooperative economics (Ujamaa)Purpose (Nia)Creativity (Kuumba)Faith (Imani)The seven principles are discussed during Kwanzaa, but are meant to be practiced throughout the year.Dr. Karenga believed that these seven principles would make individuals better, families stronger, and communities feel closer together. This is true no matter where a person’s family came from. That’s why as far as Kwanzaa is concerned, it doesn’t matter exactly how a person uses the term African American. Kwanzaa can strengthen and help people from any place.Can white people who didn’t come from Africa celebrate Kwanzaa? Certainly. Though Kwanzaa is designed for African Americans, it’s good for all people to learn about African history and customs and foods, and to discuss the seven principles.Kwanzaa is celebrated in families, in communities, and sometimes in large gatherings and events. There are many books and videos that will explain more about this important time of the year.Fun Facts:•  Swahili is one of many languages spoken in Africa•  The name Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase ‘matunda ya kwanza,’ which means ‘first fruits.’•  If you have seen the movie, The Lion King, you already know some Swahili words. Here are a few: Simba means lion; Nala means gift; and Rafiki means friend.•  Rafiki’s funny song is taken from an African children’s rhyme. ‘Asante sana, squash banana, we we nuga, mi mi apana’ means ‘Thank you very much, squash banana, you’re a baboon and I’m not.’•  ‘Hakuna Matata,’ just as the song says, means ‘No worries,’ or ‘No problem.’ Hakuna means ‘no’ or ‘there is no’ and matata means ‘trouble.’

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