December 28, 2022
In December 2021, Arrow residents Dorothy and James Meyers participated in an online chat with Candice Raynor, Director and Faculty in Residence of the Afrikan Heritage House at Oberlin College in Ohio to talk about Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday celebrated December 26 – January 1 with each day dedicated to a specific principle of Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles) and the lighting of a ceremonial candle. It culminates in a joyful feast and the exchanging of culturally significant gifts. “It’s a beautiful way to bring in the New Year with your mind and spirit focused on family and community and living by these principles,” Raynor says.
Contrary to some perceptions, Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. Rather, it is based on African harvest festival traditions from various parts of West and Southeast Africa and is often celebrated in conjunction with Christmas or Hannukah.
In the late 1960s there was growing disillusionment within the Civil Rights movement. People were not seeing the gains they’d been fighting for and as a result the movement saw groups of activists splintering off. Educator and activist Maulana Karenga saw in this an opportunity to create a holiday that connected Black people with their roots and their common struggles and hopes. Raynor said Kwanzaa is a time for Black people to “embrace who we are, where we come from, and our community as we are, as well as striving for equality.” Kwanzaa was created in 1966 in the spirit of bringing people together and looking beyond differences like socio-economics, colorism, and religion. “As Black people we’re stronger together.”
Raynor and the Meyerses agreed that the Nguzo Saba are universal principles that all people should live by, but Kwanzaa gives Black celebrants an opportunity to look at the principles as they relate specifically to their community and the struggle for equality. For example, the very language of Kwanzaa is Swahili, one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa. Each day, a candle is lit and the corresponding principle is explained, usually in the form of a story. This makes it easier for children to understand. There’s a lot of focus on children and raising them with these principles and the importance of living by them. At Oberlin, this is celebrated in the form of different students speaking on each principle and how it relates to their life. The wooden candle holder (kinara) signifies roots. “A lot of us don’t know where exactly on the continent we come from, but it gives us some kind of connection.”
Dorothy Meyers began the conversation by admitting she’d never heard of Kwanzaa. She’s not alone. Growing up in the South, Raynor didn’t know much about Kwanzaa until she came to Oberlin. The holiday is not celebrated widely outside of the United States, specifically Black urban areas.
However, Raynor has observed that in the past few years more people are starting to learn about, and celebrate, Kwanzaa.
John asked Raynor at the end of the conversation, “What can we do to support the message of Kwanzaa?” Her response was simple: Talk about it! Tell your peers about it like you would recommend a good book. Word of mouth, especially among people you know and respect, can do so much to impart understanding. “Don’t undersell your ability to educate through conversation.”
Learning about different celebrations is a way for us all to be better to one another as Americans and as international citizens. You don’t have to celebrate it to understand its value. “I truly hope that a lot more of these conversations are happening across the country and across the world,” Raynor said. “Certainly, Kwanzaa has something that can benefit everyone.”
Saint Charles, Missouri-based Arrow Senior Living manages a portfolio of communities that offer varying levels of care, including independent living, assisted living, and memory care. Each and every senior living community supports residents by focusing on dignity, respect, and quality of life. The programs and amenities offered are selected to provide only the highest standard of quality and comfort.
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