Why not extend the holiday season with some uplifting cultural attention? The first day of Kwanzaa, December 26th, begins the day after Christmas. For years I thought of Kwanzaa as the ‘Black’ Christmas, an either or type of thing. I thought to myself as a child, I want the regular Christmas, the one you see on TV, the one that causes long lines at the mall and gives me the permission to dress up nice and bake cookies. I wanted the Christmas that was shoved down my throat by the media but with the knowledge that comes with age and ever-growing concern for one’s own culture comes a ever-increasing curiosity for the holiday which centers Black culture. In dialogue with one of my brothers on the inside I realized how important it was for me to satisfy my curiosity by at least recognizing kwanzaa this year even if I wasn’t fully prepared to celebrate the holiday as I felt it should with a family of people that also understood and appreciated the holiday. There aren’t many people in my life who encourage me to celebrate or even recognize Kwanzaa, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be the first.
There are 7 days of Kwanzaa, 7 being the holy number of perfection, from the 26th to the 1st of the new year. Each day is used to recognize and strengthen a specific aspect of community. If every Black person celebrated Kwanzaa coming into the New Year it could thoroughly revolutionize our way of thinking and practicing community as a whole. The first of the 7 days is symbolized by the black candle in the center of red and green candles, its lit to commence the first day of the festival. The first day celebrates Umojah, meaning unity, the idea that we are all connected. While lighting the black candle in the center the family member doing so may read a story or poem that embodies the idea of Umoja. The family members gathered around the candle pass around and take a sip of the unity cup filled with fruit juice. After the ceremony of passing around the fruit juice is over the candles are turned off until the next day.
The celebration of unity is an important concept to grasp as a community. Many of us lack interest in the well being of one another. When we see ourselves as being connected to one another then we’re able to see the benefit in supporting one another: our schools, our businesses, our organizations; those institutions developed by our community members for the benefit of our community as a whole. Unity is power and is signified by the gathering of family. Currently the average family structures within our communities are completely fractured, two parent households are rare to come by and the lack of family structure stifles our ability to recognize the need for stable communtiy structure as a whole.
When we take the time to use this day to develop our idea of unity within our families and our community we repair the cycle of damage that has been in place for centuries. We repair it simply by recognizing that it’s there and then actively reorienting ourselves towards unification. There’s no holiday embedded within Western culture that allows us to focus on strengthening the Black community: from Christmas to Valentines day, the vast majority of American celebrations help our capitalist based economy to thrive by equating love with money spending and gift giving. The majority of our money quickly leaving our communtiy and pumping into another. Kwanzaa gives us the opportunity to build our stamina back up, after an economically and emotionally draining year. Draining is the least to say with a year full of record numbers of missing black women, record numbers of incarcerated black men and record numbers of police murders of our children. Kwanzaa is the beginning of our solution.