Families celebrating Kwanzaa decorate their households
with objects of art; colorful African cloth such as kente, especially the
wearing of kaftans by women; and fresh fruits that represent African idealism.
It is customary to include children in Kwanzaa ceremonies and to give respect
and gratitude to ancestors. Libations are shared, generally with a common
chalice, Kikombe cha Umoja, passed around to all celebrants. Non-African Americans
also celebrate Kwanzaa. The holiday greeting is "Joyous Kwanzaa".
A Kwanzaa ceremony may include drumming
and musical selections, libations, a reading of the African Pledge and the Principles
of Blackness, reflection on the Pan-African colors, a discussion of the African
principle of the day or a chapter in African history, a candle-lighting ritual,
artistic performance, and, finally, a feast (Karamu). The greeting for each
day of Kwanzaa is 'Habari Gani?' which is Swahili for "What's the News?"
At first, observers of Kwanzaa avoided
the mixing of the holiday or its symbols, values, and practice with other holidays,
as doing so would violate the principle of kujichagulia (self-determination)
and thus violate the integrity of the holiday, which is partially intended as
a reclamation of important African values. Today, many African American families
celebrate Kwanzaa along with Christmas and New Year's. Frequently, both Christmas
trees and kinaras, the traditional candle holder symbolic of African American
roots, share space in kwanzaa-celebrating households. To them, Kwanzaa is an
opportunity to incorporate elements of their particular ethnic heritage into
holiday observances and celebrations of Christmas.
Kwanzaa is a holiday honoring the culture
and traditions of people of African origin. It is celebrated by people from
a range of African countries and their descendants. Kwanzaa consists of a week
of celebrations, which ends with a feast and the exchange of gifts. During the
celebrations, candles are lit and libations are poured. A libation is the name
given to a ritual pouring of a drink as an offering to a god. During Kwanzaa,
a wooden unity cup is used to pour the libations.
A Kwanzaa ceremony often also includes
performance of music and drumming, a reflection on the Pan-African colors of
red, green and black and a discussion of some aspect of African history. Women
often wear brightly colored traditional clothing. Some cultural organizations
hold special exhibitions of African influenced art or performances during the
period of the celebrations.
Originally the people observing Kwanzaa
did not mix any elements of other festivals into their celebrations. However,
in recent years, it has become increasingly common for people to mix elements
of Kwanzaa with Christmas or New Year celebrations. For instance, a family may
have both a Christmas tree and a Kwanzaa candle stick on display in their home.
This enables them to include both Christian and African inspired traditions
in their lives at this time of year.
Cultural exhibitions include the Spirit
of Kwanzaa, an annual celebration held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the
Performing Arts featuring interpretive dance, African dance, song and poetry.
In 1977, in Kwanzaa: origin, concepts,
practice, Karenga stated that Kwanzaa "was chosen to give a Black alternative
to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves
and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society."
In 1997, Karenga and the community evolved,
stating that while Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday, 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 pow wows besides Native Americans."
Currently, according to the Official
Kwanzaa Web Site (written by Karenga and maintained by Organization US, which
Karenga chairs), "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative
to their own religion or religious holiday. And it is not an alternative to
people's religion or faith but a common ground of African culture...Kwanzaa
is not a reaction or substitute for anything. In fact, it offers a clear and
self-conscious option, opportunity, and chance to make a proactive choice, a
self-affirming and positive choice as distinct from a reactive one."
Karenga's most recent interpretation
emphasizes that while every people has its own holiday traditions, all people
can share in the celebration of our common humanity: "Any particular message
that is good for a particular people, if it is human in its content and ethical
in its grounding, speaks not just to that people, it speaks to the world."