Kwanzaa and Christianity

Image result for KarengaKwanzaa’s Founder:  Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga (born Ronald McKinley Everett) is an African-American professor, activist, and author. He also is known as the creator of Pan-Africanism holiday Kwanzaa. During the 1960s and 1970s, Karenga was a major figure in the Black Power Movement, and with Hakim Jamal, co-founded the Black Nationalism and social change organization – Organization US.

Pan- Africanism: Worldwide Intellectual Movement Asserts that the fate of all African peoples and countries are intertwined. It is “a belief that African peoples, both on the continent and in the diaspora (Carribean, Latin America, and the USA), share not merely a common history, but a common destiny”
Black Power Movement:  A Political Movement Emphasized racial pride and the creation of black political/cultural institutions to nurture/promote black collective interests and black values. The movement alienated itself from the mainstream civil rights movement, supported racial segregation, and constituted black superiority over other races.
Black Nationalism: Advocated Racial Definition Revolved around social, political, and economic empowerment of black communities and people, resisted assimilation into white American culture and maintained a distinct black identity – that is, separation, or independence from European society.
Organization US: A Black Nationalist Group Community Organization Founded in 1965, US was a complementary organization of the Black Panther Party in California. One of the early slogans was, “Wherever US is, We are.” US stands for us Black people vs ‘them’ the oppressors.
KWANZAA: An African-American Holiday According to its founder, meant to be “an alternative to Christmas because Jesus was psychotic and that Christianity was a white religion that black people should shun,” Kwanzaa is a celebration that has its roots in the Black Nationalist Movement and Organization US.

Karenga studied at Los Angeles City College and the University of California, Los Angeles. While attending college, he joined the Congress of Racial Equality. His activism led to violent clashes with the Black Panther Party, and in 1971, he was convicted of felonious assault and false imprisonment. He served time in California Men’s Colony until he was paroled in 1974.

Are African-American Christians unequally yoked together with Kwanzaa celebrations? 

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Until recently, all I knew of Kwanzaa was its seven principles known as The Nguzo Saga, and that it was an African-American celebration which took place at the end of each year to celebrate family, community, and culture in the black community. However, after attending a Kwanzaa in July event sponsored by a local group called Mid-South Kwanzaa, Incorporated, I quickly became concerned that some of its teachings and undertones were conflicted with my Christian faith.

Taking its place alongside Christmas and Hanukkah as a mainstream national holiday, Kwanzaa (meaning “first fruits”) is a cultural holiday organized around the number seven and based on African harvest festivals.  

Seven Days:  December 26th – January 1st.

Seven Principles: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).

Seven Secondary Principles:  Nguzo Saba (Symbolizes the seven principles of Kwanzaa),  Bendera Ya Taifa (Symbolizes the struggle of Liberation), Tambiko (Symbolizes the libation by which honor is given to our ancestors and the call to carry out the struggle and the work they began),  Harambee (Symbolizes a call to unity and collective work and struggle – meaning “Let’s pull together”),  Habari Gani (Swahili term used when greeting others – meaning “What’s the news;” “What’s happening”), and Kwaheri (Swahili expression of parting with good wishes; expectancy to meet again).

Seven Symbols: Mazao (Fruits/Nuts/Vegetables), Mkeka (Woven Place Mats), Muhindi (Ears of Corn), Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles), Kinara (Candle Holders), Kikombe cha Umoja (Communal/Unity Cups) and Zawadi (Gifts) – all arranged on a table (known as the Kwanzaa Alter) at the beginning of Kwanzaa.

***It is noteworthy to mention that the founder of Kwanzaa was the seventh child of fourteen children.

The Ceremonies

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On each day of Kwanzaa, participants greet each other with the phrase Habari Gani, which means “What’s the news” in Swahili. The answer is that day’s Kwanzaa principle – in Swahili. The official colors of Kwanzaa are red, symbolizing the struggles of the African people; black, symbolizing Earth and the African people; and green, symbolizing hope and the future. Kwanzaa candles are arranged in a holder, with a black candle in the middle and red and green ones on the sides. One candle is lit each day of Kwanzaa.

The Libation Ceremony

Tambiko (Libation), is the opening of the Kwanzaa ceremony. It is a form of African praise which pays homage to our black ancestors. During this libation ceremony, the elder of the household pours wine, juice or distilled spirits (hard liquor) from the Kikombe Cha Umoja (Unity Cup) into the earth – in like manner as a drink being poured out as an offering to a deity.  While pouring, the elder makes a statement honoring departed ancestors for the inspiration and values they have left with their descendants.

The Sharing of the Fruit Juice Ceremony

Next, as a gesture of unity, the Kikombe Cha Umoja is passed around by the elder for everyone present to share. Some chose to provide individual unity cups for each person in attendance. During this part of the festivities, the elder leads with the call, Harambee which means let’s pull together, and everyone participates in repeating the phrase seven times.

The Candlelighting Ceremony

Rather it is a family or community gathering, the candle lighting ceremony is central to the celebration of Kwanzaa.  Marking the commencement of the festive season, on the first day of the celebration (December 26th), the black candle is lit. The individual lighting the candle is responsible for making a statement about the first principle, which is Umoja (Unity). They will also share a reading or poem that is related to that day’s principle.  After the ceremonies, the candles are extinguished until the next day.

The Candlelighting Ceremony is repeated each day by the lighting the previous day(s) candle(s) along with the present day’s candle. For instance, on day 2 of Kwanzaa, the black (Ujamaa) candle, and the red (Umoja) candles will be lit. Kwanzaa is rooted in African culture, however, people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds are welcomed to join in the celebration.

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The placement of the Mishumaa Saba (Candles) in the Kinara is as follows: Black, for African people everywhere, is located in the center. Three red candles, representing the blood of our ancestors, are placed to the left. Three green candles, symbolizing the earth, life, and promises of the future, are placed to the right.

On the evening of December 31 (New Year’s Eve, Day 6) Karamu is observed – a joyous celebration with food, drink, dance, and music for the everyone. This ceremony is a time of rejoicing, reassessment and, recommitment. The Zawadi, handmade or similarly meaningful gifts for children, may be opened during this ceremony, or on the final day of Kwanzaa, when Imani is observed.

***It is noteworthy to mention that in 1997, Karenga altered his position so that practicing Christians would not be alienated from celebrating Kwanzaa by stating that “the holiday was not intended to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday.”

His position regarding the reason why Kwanzaa was created may have changed, but the politics, philosophies, and ideas are still the same.

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African Spiritualism

Racial Segregation

Black Superiority

Independence/Isolation from European Society

Now, do not get me wrong, I am an African-American woman! I love African-American History! I love my people and our culture! We have a unique experience in America! We fought hard and many died, sacrificing themselves for the privileges and rights that I enjoy today – but, I hold to the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he stated, “But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone…

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I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers…

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

And, more importantly, my faith – I AM A CHRISTIAN. I follow the beliefs and teaching of Christ. Hate is not an option! Discord is not an option! We must work together to MEND THE DIVIDE! Satan cannot cast out Satan! Hate cannot conquer hate – only love can do that!

The politics of Kwanzaa offends my Christianity! I am still black! Cross vs. Culture! Yes, we should support our communities by supporting black owned businesses. Yes, we should teach our children about their history and their heritage. Yes! I appreciate my culture, but I will serve only one God! Whom the Son of Man sets free is free indeed.

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Kwanzaa and Christianity ~~~ Yvonne James |© Yvonne James (aka Elder Yvonne James) and Blogging with Yvonne, 2010-2017. 





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