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African Festivals
Kwanzaa


    In Africa the festival known as Kwanzaa is celebrated over several days and each day during Kwanzaa people exchange gifts to reinforce the principle for the day. The gifts are meant to encourage creativity, knowledge and achievement. Lots of them are homemade and celebrate African traditions. Some gifts include books about Africans, crafts and dolls, educational games. On the first day the first candle is lit which is the black candle on the rest of the days the other candles are lit going from left to right there are also three green candles which symbolize freedom.

    After the candle lighting, families are suppose to commemorate their ancestors and leaders by having a drink out of the unity cup. Each person drinks from the cup, then raises it while saying "harambee", which means "lets all pull together."

    The highlight of Kwanzaa is Karamu, the main feast held on the last evening to close the festival.

    Kwanzaa is also an African-American holiday that was established in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a civil rights activist and teacher. Mr. Karenga initiated the celebration of Kwanzaa in the United States, as he thought that it was important and valuable for Black Americans to learn more about the African traditions that may be part of their heritage. Through the promotion of this holiday, Mr. Karenga hoped to establish a holiday that would have special meaning for Black communities in the United States.

    The word Kwanzaa means first fruits in the African trade language of Swahili. Swahili is a neutral language that has no affiliation with any particular ethnic group in Africa. Although the holiday is based on African festivals that celebrate the gathering of crops, Kwanzaa is more than a harvest festival.

    Kwanzaa is celebrated for seven days, and on December 31 families and friends gather to celebrate a feast or karamu. Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. It is a time for African-Americans to gather and celebrate their history and culture. Kwanzaa is a community-oriented holiday and focuses around seven principles.

    The seven principles of Kwanzaa are:

    umoja = unity
    kujichagulia = self-determination
    ujima = collective work and responsibility
    juamaa = cooperative economics
    nia = purpose
    kuumba = creativity
    imani = faith

    These seven principles form a complex concept which essentially hinges on people coming together to work in unity for the benefit of everyone in the community and believing in the strength that working together produces.

    During Kwanzaa, homes are decorated with red, black, and green. The Kwanzaa table is set with a straw mat, called a mkeka, which is said to symbolize the traditions of Africa. A candleholder, called a kinara, is set on the mkeka. The candleholder contains one candle for each of the seven principles. Each night of Kwanzaa, a candle is lit and its corresponding principle is invoked. Kwanzaa culminates in the 'karamu on December 31.

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