Kwanzaa Was Lit…Kinda

Reflections From My First Kwanzaa

Last week marked the conclusion of my family’s first time celebrating Kwanzaa. I’ve wanted to celebrate it for years, but my husband and I’s lack of familiarity with the holiday left me feeling intimidated and trepidatious. During the Christmas season of 2020, something felt off. It was our first Christmas with our daughter. I reflected on our growing family, ruminating in thought. What would our family’s holiday traditions be? How would our celebrations cultivate cultural pride in our daughter? I kept returning to the idea of Kwanzaa. Although it was too late to get the materials needed for a traditional celebration, I told myself I would make it happen for 2021. 

Almost a year later, when November came around I procrastinated on getting the materials. I really wanted to have at least the proper candles and the kinara (candle holder) to feel invested and prepared to celebrate the holiday. I researched the history and seven principles of Kwanzaa, known as the Nguzu Saba.

The fourth principle, Ujamaa, represents cooperative economics between people of African descent. It didn’t feel right to purchase my family’s Kwanzaa items from Amazon. I wanted to make sure our purchases supported people of the African diaspora. Enter Etsy. I was able to purchase a hand-carved wooden kinara created and shipped from Ghana. It arrived in two weeks and is beautiful. I also ordered hand dipped candles from an African-American owned shop in Georgia. We set the items on our kitchen island and waited for December 26th. 

When the day actually came it felt like a chore instead of a holiday. Remembering to celebrate something the day after Christmas didn’t feel natural. We made sure to have our little one with us every evening as we lit each candle and read about each principle. Some days it was easy to quickly find a passage, quote, or poem to commemorate the day. Other days, like Kuumba, we were confused as to how we could celebrate creativity on the spot. If we had planned how we would celebrate each day beforehand, we could have used Kuumba as an opportunity to put our daughter’s Christmas art supplies to use by crafting a finger-painting as a family.  

The Importance of Community

Reflecting further, I think a missing element in our celebration was being in community. Kwanzaa is Afrocentric, meaning it centers the experiences, culture, history, needs, and interests of African and African-descended peoples. Indigenous African communities place a premium on being in community, hence why the leading principle of Kwanzaa refers to the need for unity within our community. For next year, I would like to plan to expand our celebration outside of our home. There were several community events in the city that we could have attended. I look forward to attending one or two of them next year. 

Planning to be in community would be so much easier if our extended families and friends celebrated Kwanzaa. Even though my sister is named after one of the principles of Nguzu Saba, my family never celebrated Kwanzaa growing up. It was never mentioned in my household, or in my schooling. It was such an alien concept I would often get it confused with Hannaakah *face palm*. My husband’s story is similar. We’re completely breaking the mold by bringing Kwanzaa into our lives. Looking into the future, I hope that the joy we feel and spread each year during this time inspires those around us to give Kwanzaa a try. 

If we do this right, making each Kwanzaa a beautiful celebration of cultural reattachment, I don’t think our family will struggle to find connection during Kwanzaa for much longer. Many years into the future, I foresee our grandchildren and their children gathered around the kinara, passing the unity cup, loving their motherland, their ancestors, their Blackness, their family, themselves. 

Join the revolution. Celebrate Kwanzaa. 

That is all. 

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