Kwanzaa Editorial in the Santa Fe New Mexican December 23, 2021


The coming of Kwanzaa is a celebration to appreciate

With the passing of the solstice Tuesday, the darkest day of winter is past, its bleakness relieved by the season’s many celebrations.

Christmas, of course, is coming up Saturday. And Sunday begins the holiday of Kwanzaa, seven days of celebrating the values of African culture. It’s a holiday of light — seven candles are lit over seven nights — and of emphasizing family, unity, heritage and culture.

For all people, the principles of Kwanzaa are worth learning.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Santa Fe NAACP will skip its usual public, in-person Kwanzaa celebration. That’s a wise decision, given the fast-spreading coronavirus. But it’s also a loss, because sharing publicly offers the opportunity for people in the community who are unfamiliar with this holiday to understand its relevance.

Especially in a state such as New Mexico, where only 2.6 percent of the population is African American, most people are unaware of cultural celebrations that matter to Black people.

The nonreligious holiday began in the 1960s, when college professor Dr. Maulana Karanga created Kwanzaa as a means of instilling pride and community among African American people. The name is rooted in African culture, from the Swahili phrase atunda ya kwanza, which means the “first fruits.”

Every family celebrates its own traditions, but the holiday is one of song, dance, African drumming, poetry reading and storytelling. Each night, families gather and a child will light a candle on the Kinara — the candle holder — and all will discuss the principles of the evening.

A black candle holds the center spot, with three red and three green candles alternating on either side. The seven principles are faith, unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose and creativity.

The emphasis on community is one worth pondering. In the pandemic, when individuals had to put aside their personal desires to act for the good of others, we have seen what happens when individual action is valued over the collective.

The Kwanzaa principles, rooted in Africa, value the fruits that are borne when individuals act to improve the collective. There is self-determination, yes, but collective work and responsibility and cooperative economics are part of the mix. That is an attribute the wider United States has been losing in this era of people emphasizing their freedom, their rights above all else. Valuing the village more likely would have helped Americans weather this pandemic with less suffering and death.

Vaccinations and masks, after all, are worn not just for the individual but to protect others.

Next week, as people put away the trappings of Christmas, take time to think of a different holiday. On the seven evenings of Kwanzaa, our friends, family and neighbors who celebrate will be referring to important principles that infuse their lives and through them, our community.

Each night, a candle will be burning, warming us with its glow and meaning even during these dark days of winter. Joyous Kwanzaa, one and all.