Black ExperienceLifestyle

Kwanzaa — Lifting Spirits in a Pandemic

With the end of the year nigh, and a ravenous plague surging throughout the world, people have turned to their end of year festivities to lift spirits. Kwanzaa is a celebration that brings people together.

The observance of Kwanzaa this year will be disrupted due to the pandemic. Being a community-based holiday, the social restrictions have caused many to take a different approach to celebrating the holiday.

One of the core values of Kwanzaa is the celebration of community. The disruption of this core element is readily felt by those that celebrate the holiday.

Kelly Davidson, owner of Kelly Maven Media, has celebrated Kwanzaa for 18 years. She normally goes to Kwanzaa events held in and around the DMV area. This year however is not the case as restrictions prohibit large gatherings of people.

When asked what Kwanzaa meant to her, Davidson said the holiday is “a center to where people can base their lives in. Kwanzaa is the foundational principle that I want to live by and want to raise my family by.”

Organizations that attempt to host Kwanzaa celebrations have had to face a new set of challenges due to the pandemic.

Substantial Arts and Music, a multimedia organization, was planning on hosting their second annual Kwanzaa celebration, which had to be made virtual due to the pandemic. This had led to a damper on participation in the celebration.

Stan “Substantial” Robinson, a co-founder of Substantial Arts and Music, said, “doing things in that [virtual] space can be very different from doing things in person. Kwanzaa contains elements of call and response and involving people in the space. It is very much an interactive holiday.”

The organization however has pointed out ways in which they can still hold the celebration as well to reach a larger audience.

“The great thing about this being a cultural program is that no event will be the same. Everybody brings in their own spice … their own vision,” says Rachelle Etienne-Robinson, who is also a co-founder of Substantial Arts and Music.

With everything being in a virtual space to coincide with pandemic restrictions, people are still finding ways to connect and celebrate the people and events they hold dear. The holiday of Kwanzaa still has its patrons who are willing to keep the tradition alive and spread it to others as well.

The holiday was created by Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga in 1966 to be the first pan-African holiday. The holiday pulls from African traditions of the harvest. The name stems from the Swahili phrase “Matunda ya Kwanza” which roughly translates to the “first fruits of harvest.” The holiday is celebrated between Dec. 26 through Jan 1.

The celebration is centered around Nguzo Saba, which means seven principles of African Heritage. Each value is celebrated on a different day. A Kinara (Swahili for candelabra) holds seven candles, three red, one black, and three green. The black candle in the center is burned first with a subsequent red or green candle burned each night until all seven are lit. The seven principles are; Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective Work), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).

On the sixth night, the Karamu Ya Imani (Feast of Faith) is held. Dishes for Kwanzaa stems from the entire African diaspora. Some symbolic foods are the Mazoa, or the fruits and vegetables symbolizing the bounty of the harvest. The Muhindi or ears of corn which represent the number of children still present in the home. The Kikombe Cha Umoja is a special chalice used in the Tambiko ritual of honoring the ancestors.

The final night is an exchange of gifts. The gifts are usually based on the principles of the celebration.

The celebration originated in the 1960s and serves as a pathway for African Americans to reconnect with their origins and selves. The traditions still hold true as even a global pandemic as not stopped those that wish to celebrate with their community.

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