The Kwanzaa Celebration amidst other December Remembrances

The month of December began with a celebration of Hanukkah, a Festival of Lights that commemorates the marvels or miracles of a candle that burned for 8 days and of the lowly Jewish tribe of the Maccabees overcoming the great army of the Syrians. 

12 Winter Holidays from Around the World. Video by Working Solutions.

Then came the darkest day of the year, the winter Solstice on December 21st and the slow return of the sun that follows. 

Then came the feast of Christmas and the Christmas Season that extends for 12 days through Epiphany. 

And, on Christmas Day this year, the launching of the work of thousands of scientists from over 29 countries in search of the origins of light in the universe.

Now, beginning December 26, the week-long celebration of Kwanzaa that honors seven values in African culture. 

Thus, we have had a very full month of deep memories from the Jewish, pagan, Christian, scientific and African traditions honoring this special time of year.

The Kwanzaa celebration began in 1966 and was created by Dr. Maulana, a black power activist and professor of Africana studies.  It begins December 26 and lasts up to January 1 and is understood as “a celebration that uses the time of winter harvest to allow its celebrants to reevaluate their lives and reset for the new year.” 

The name means “first fruits” and brings together solstice and harvest ceremonies common to the African continent.

Kwanzaa founder Ron Karenga, center, with wife Tiamoyo at left, celebrating the festival at the Rochester Institute of Technology on December 12, 2003. Photo by Apavlo on Wikimedia Commons.

At its heart lies a celebration of seven values important to African culture: Unity, Self-determination, Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith.

Each day a candle is lit in honor of one of these values.  The kinara or candle holder has three red candles on the left, three green candles on the right and one black candle in the center.  The black candle represents the black people and is lit first.  The red and green candles are lit alternatively each evening.  The last night, New Year’s Eve, brings communities together, children as well as elders.  (At least in pre-covid times.)

See Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from World Faith Traditions, pp. 50-79.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Lighting the Kwanzaa Candles. Photo by Askar Abayev from Pexels.

Queries for Contemplation

Can you identify with the goal of Kwanzaa to reevaluate your life and set goals for the New Year?  What seven values would you like the greater human community to commit to this New Year?

Recommended Reading

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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8 thoughts on “The Kwanzaa Celebration amidst other December Remembrances”

  1. Avatar

    “Thus, we have had a very full month of deep memories from the Jewish, pagan, Christian, scientific and African traditions honoring this special time of year.”
    I was surprised by this quote that African traditions are separated out from Jewish, pagan, Christian, and scientific when they include all those traditions.
    I think I understand the way it was written but I find it infers that African Traditions, and not all Africans have the same traditions, are separate from all the other traditions yet nothing is mentioned of the European, American, etc. traditions. This seems to me to be a “societal” bias against African people in general. I mean no harm or disrespect and I felt this needed to be said. Peace and All Good to All, Francis

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Francis, My own personal understanding of Kwanzaa is that when Dr. Karenga was putting this holiday together, he was trying to “unite” people of African descent by giving them a common holiday to share–“unite” being the first principle of Kwanzaa. That’s why the language he used for the holiday was Swahili which was the closest thing to a universal language that Africa had. And so with Native American peoples–we tend to speak of Native American Spirituality as if they all believed the same things, when they didn’t, but it is just an easy way to encapsulate what people in general believe in certain cultures.

  2. Avatar

    I’m so delighted and grateful that Matt is honoring and sharing about the distinctive Kwanzaa celebration. During the late 70’s I took classes in the Black Studies department where Kwanzaa founder, Maulana Ron Karenga, taught. What a great privilege to study under him. His, never minced truth telling was shocking, riveting and transformational. I was usually the only white person in the numerous classes I took and learned a lot. So from that place, I’d like to share that I think an important way to respect Kwanzaa is by not appropriating it as I have seen done in well intentioned white churches. But it’s offensive.
    Bow of gratitude to Matt who respectfully shares about Kwanzaa, Kristal Parks

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Kristal, Thank you for sharing your first hand experience with Prof. Karenga and Kwanzaa. And you’re right, appropriating rituals and celebrations of other cultural groups can be offensive, to those in the cultural group…

  3. Avatar

    Thank you for bringing us the light of your wisdom and the common thread in all positive spiritual traditions. I have heard criticism of Kwanzaa being a “made-up” celebration and can only reply (usually quietly to myself) that so are all the others, they have just been with us longer.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, You are absolutely right. Last night I gave a talk on Kwanzaa at the Creation Spirituality Community I lead. There I pointed out that in our newspaper yesterday–the very day I was going to give the talk–it said that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia denounced Kwanzaa as a “fake religion” before the national College Republicans and even berated them for “pandering and BS” ‘after the group tweeted a seemingly innocuous happy holiday message.’ I also, like you, pointed out that the age of a religion does not determine its truth, and all the religions we have today were created by someone sometime and so they were all “man-made” [not divinely designed]and they were new then, back when they made them!

  4. Avatar

    Just to be clear, as I understand it, Kwanzaa is a holiday, not a religion–just as Day of the Dead is a holiday, not a religion. I would presume that many, if not most, who celebrate Kwanzaa are Christians. But whether celebrants are or are not Christians, who would criticize a holiday that allows people to pause to remember and consider their values?

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Michele, You are correct. Kwanzaa is a holiday not a religion. A holiday created to foster unity and pride among people of African descent…

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