A Kwanzaa Keepsake: Celebrating the Holiday with New Traditions and Feasts contains everything you need to create your own unique holiday traditions. African-American culinary historian and cookbook author Jessica B. Harris gives a brief history of the holiday, its purpose and symbols and offers more than 50 recipes in the form of a complete menu for each of the seven nights of the festival. In addition to a historical perspective and recipes, Harris also includes inspirational biographies of ancestors of the African-Atlantic world and suggests special projects for each of the seven days so that family and friends can work together in the spirit of the holiday. "Kwanzaa is essentially a family holiday, whether it be the nuclear family, the extended family or the communal family," Harris says. "During each evening of the holiday, family members gather around the celebration table to read the Seven Principles and to meditate on the principle of the day while the youngest child lights one of the candles. Visitors to the home are asked to participate as the brief nightly ceremony is held, candles lighted, and libation poured from the communal cup.
Although Kwanzaa is celebrated at the end of the year at the same time as the Christian celebration of Christmas, the Hindu celebration of Devalue, the Jewish celebration of Chanukah, and traditional New Year's celebrations, Harris notes that it is not necessarily a replacement for any of the holidays. "Kwanzaa may be celebrated jointly with any or all of the year-end holidays," Harris says. "More importantly, it offers a time for reflection and self-affirmation that is in contrast with the rampant commercialization that has overtaken some of the other holidays."
The celebration of Kwanzaa is guided by the Nguzo Saba or Seven Principles with each day of the week-long festival being devoted to one building block of self-awareness. They are 1) Umoja or unity; 2) Kujichagulia or self-determination; 3) Ujima or collective work; 4) Ujamma or cooperative economics; 5) Nia or purpose; 6) Kuumba or creativity; and 7) Imani or faith. The mystical number seven is at the core of the celebration as there are seven days, seven principles and even seven symbols of the festival. The symbols are the mazao, the fruits and vegetables of the harvest that are a part of the celebration table; the mkeka, the place mat on which they are arranged, and the kinara, the seven-branched candlestick that holds the red, black, and green candles, the mishumaa saba that are lighted each evening. There are also the muhini, the ears of corn that represent each child still remaining at home; the kikombe cha umoja, the communal chalice from which the ceremonial libation is poured, and the zawadi, the gifts.
While the basic Nguzo Saba or Seven Principles remain unchanged, Harris points out that celebrants are open to find the way to the holiday that best expresses their individuality. "There are as many different types of Kwanzaa as there are types of families in the African-American community," Harris says. "Wherever we have stepped, our transformational skills have changed the country and the hemisphere in domains as wide-ranging as retail sales, cooking, music and language. In our world, there's always room for improvisation and each celebration brings something else to the kaleidoscope of possibilities that is the holiday."
A Kwanzaa Keepsake
By Jessica B. Harris
Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
This page created December 1998; modified November 2006
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