Kwanzaa: Celebrating African Heritage in America

The third December Festival of Light is Kwanzaa, a week long holiday, celebrated each year from December 26 to January 1st. Kwanzaa was established in the United States in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana studies, as a non-religious, non-political African-American holiday celebrating the family, community and culture in America but has spread across the African diaspora and includes traditions and foods from around the world. It culminates in gift-giving and a feast including traditional foods such as cheese grits, black-eyed peas and yams. The word Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili words matunda ya kwanza, meaning first fruits of the harvest.

The Kwanzaa celebration focuses on one of 7 core principals of African values each day: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. You will often see these printed on one of the symbols of Kwanzaa: the candle-holder or Kinara, which holds 3 red, 3 green and 1 black candle, signifying ancestry.

In addition to the kinara and the 7 candles, there are 5 additional symbols of Kwanzaa: crops, the place mat, an ear of corn, the unity cup and gifts. Kwanzaa has it’s roots in African harvest celebrations and includes traditional festivities such as story telling, singing and dancing, poetry, drumming, reading, and, of course, feasting, called the Karamu.

At Karamu ya Imani, the feast of faiths, on the 6th day of Kwanzaa, families and friends will sit down to a dinner of traditional African dishes such as peanut stew as well as favorite family dishes like our better-than-the-box macaroni and cheese and cheesy grits. Black-eyed peas and collard greens, for luck in the new year, are often served as well as yams and cornbread. Caribbean influenced dishes such as jerk chicken, Creole gumbo and South American feijoada have also found their way into Kwanzaa feasts.

Kwanzaa, is a time to celebrate family and traditions for African-American families. Let Gersky’s know how we can help you celebrate a special Kwanzaa feast on December 31 this year to keep you out of the kitchen so you can enjoy your family and friends. Call us at 845-621-0696.

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