Insight News

Wednesday
Sep 03rd

Kwanzaa is for everyone

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By Taylor Cisco III

Now that Thanksgiving is past and the first serious snow has fallen, it's beginning to look a lot like . . . Kwanzaa. That's right, Kwanzaa. The cards are starting to pop up at the drugstore, you know the ones with the red, black and green patterns; the pan-African styled models and the slightly "ethnic" fonts. They're nestling right next to the traditional Christmas and Chanukah cards. Though the name is becoming relatively familiar, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding this week-long "Black Christmas." Now that Thanksgiving is past and the first serious snow has fallen, it's beginning to look a lot like . . . Kwanzaa. That's right, Kwanzaa. The cards are starting to pop up at the drugstore, you know the ones with the red, black and green patterns; the pan-African styled models and the slightly "ethnic" fonts. They're nestling right next to the traditional Christmas and Chanukah cards. Though the name is becoming relatively familiar, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding this week-long "Black Christmas."

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Ron Karenga, the leader of United Slaves Organization, a Black Nationalist group that often found itself at odds with the Black Panther Party. Originally intended as an alternative to Christmas (on the ridiculous grounds that Christianity was a "white" religion that Blacks imitated), Karenga later revised the focus of Kwanzaa, stating that: "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holidays . . . but rather as a means to help African Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage - it can be celebrated by people of any race. Other people can and do celebrate it, just like other people participate in Cinco de Mayo besides Mexicans; Chinese New Year besides Chinese; Native American powwows besides Native Americans."

So yes, it's okay to invite your non-Black friends, relatives and co-workers to join in the Kwanzaa festivities. After all, observance of Kwanzaa focuses on seven principles that certainly transcend racial boundaries. Unity, self-determination, responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith are positive attributes that all people can appreciate.

The name Kwanzaa is taken from the Swahili phrase, matunda ya kwanza, which loosely translated means, "first fruits." Each of the principles has a Swahili name as well- even though most African-Americans are from West Africa and Swahili is primarily an East African language. This doesn't take anything away from the holiday. In this case, intent outweighs accuracy.

Like the other holidays that fall this time of year, Kwanzaa is a time of sharing and giving. It's a time for family and friends. It's nondenominational and even atheist-friendly. You don't have to light candles or make speeches; you don't even have to buy those aforementioned greeting cards with the smiling black family wearing dashikis and kaftans.

In today's politically correct society where you can't say "Merry Christmas" at the risk of offending someone, the "safe" greetings tend to feel a little cold, a little too generic. It's become so automatic that most people hardly even respond and/or return the sentiment. If you're looking for a seasonal greeting that won't offend, but has still more character than "happy holidays," "season's greetings" and "happy festivus," try throwing "Happy Kwanzaa" out there. People still might not return the sentiment, but they'll definitely respond.
 

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