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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

January 2, 2024: Our Kwanzaa greeting each day will be “Habari Gani?”, which means, “what’s the news?

Tuesday, January 2, 2023

Our Kwanzaa greeting each day will be “Habari Gani?”, which means, “what’s the news?

A Kwanzaa Reflection by Kymberlaine Banks

(Please Note: I meant to post this earlier to get ahead of the actual feast days of Kwanzaa. Sorry about that. But take heart - we can celebrate the principles of Kwanzaa every day of the new year - David)

I am excited that this year marks the first time I am celebrating Kwanzaa from December 26 through January 1 with my son.

Why is this the first time? Well, that’s a great question. I don’t remember when I first heard of this African American holiday, but it was decades ago. I do remember, more than once, thinking, “we ought to celebrate this,” because it is easy to love the principles and reason the holiday was created.

But each year, caught by the arrival of December 26 without having taken steps in advance to honor the tradition, I never quite made it happen. This year, an invitation to reflect on Kwanzaa and a visit to my favorite Black bookstore in Dallas, Pan-African Connection, made all the difference.

While the name of the holiday borrows from the Swahili word Kwanza, which means first and is part of the phrase Matunda Ya Kwanza (first fruits), this tradition is completely American.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr Maulana Karenga, founder and chairman of the Black Nationalist Organization, US, after the deadly Watts rebellion of 1965 to unite and empower the Black community.

The book I bought to learn how to celebrate is titled, Kwanzaa: A Progressive and Uplifting African American Holiday. Important things I learned in this quick read include.

Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious one.

The Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of Kwanzaa, can be lived and celebrated year-round.

You don’t have to buy anything to celebrate Kwanzaa.

According to Dr. Karenga, the Nguzo Saba is “minimum set of principles by which Black people must live in order to begin to receive and reconstruct our history and lives.” I sincerely believe these are minimum principles all people can and should live. Each day we honor a different principle:

December 26, Umoja (Unity) – To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.

December 27, Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) – To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.

December 28, Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) – To build and maintain our community together and make our community’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

December 29, Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) – To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

December 30, Nia (Purpose) – To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

December 31, Kuumba (Creativity) – To do always as much as we can to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

January 1, Imani (Faith) – To believe with all our hearts in our people and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Anyone and everyone can celebrate Kwanzaa and although you do not have to buy anything to create your own celebration, there are seven symbols of Kwanzaa, mazao (crops), mkeka (mat), kinara (candleholder), muhindi (corn), kikombe cha umoja (unity cup), zawadi (gifts) and mishumaa saba (seven candles) –that are traditionally arranged on a table. Three of the seven candles are red, representing the struggle; three of the candles are green, representing the land and hope for the future; and one of the candles is black, representing our Black skin.

I joyfully purchased some of these items to begin our growing collection of Kwanzaa décor. Placed lovingly on our table, the mkeka now holds one ear of muhindi, representing my only child, a beautiful wooden kinara and kikombe cha umoja,

The seven mishumaa saba are now placed in our kinara with three red on the left side, representing the struggle and blood shed by our ancestors, the black one representing Black people in unity, in the center and three green, representing the Earth or the abundance of possibilities the future holds, on the right.

We will light the candles in order at dinner each night for a week. First the Black one, then alternately one red and one green each day, a statement to reinforce that the struggle and the future are part of the same story.

Our Kwanzaa greeting each day will be “Habari Gani?”, which means, “what’s the news?” and we will answer with the principle of the day and what it means to each of us.

I am going to love everything about working to live and celebrate the principles this week and hopefully every day. My Kwanzaa wish for you is umoja, nia and Imani.

A few great sources that helped prepare us to celebrate appropriately:

National Museum of African American History and Culture article The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

History Channel Five Things You May Not Know About Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa: A Progressive and Uplifting African American Holiday by Haki R. Madhubuti – buy it at Pan-African Connection Bookstore, Art Gallery and Resource Center

This reflection was written by Retreat House Friend Kymberlaine Banks.

Here's the link:

Kymberlaine works with Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT) as a Business Engagement Officer. Her specialty is forming meaningful connections within organizations, while strengthening their ties to the community. Beyond work, Kymberlaine enjoys music and theater, activism within the Presbyterian Church USA, where she is a ruling elder, serving on nonprofit boards and committees focused on the arts and humanities and volunteering with organizations focused on social justice, education, poverty, and homelessness.

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