My Family Celebrated Kwanzaa For The First Time. Here's How It Went

Illustration for article titled My Family Celebrated Kwanzaa For The First Time. Here's How It Went
Photo: MIND AND I (Shutterstock)

Despite my pretty obvious penchant for and desire to support the spirit behind “rooting for everybody Black,” I’ve been pretty intentionally absent from the Kwanzaa party. Let me go on ahead and note here that I’m fully aware that the founder of Kwanzaa (or at least the individual given the credit for its founding), Ronald Everett aka Malauna Karenga, has a pretty nefarious history and isn’t exactly a beacon of Black upliftment. That’s not why I didn’t celebrate Kwanzaa—I have other reasons for that—I just want it on record so that you know that I know that Karenga is largely an ain’t shit nigga.

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Glad we got that out of the way.

For as long as I can remember knowing about Kwanzaa, it was always viewed in an almost distant fashion, if it was acknowledged at all. I’d heard about it before college, but until then not a single person I knew (as far as I know) celebrated it or encouraged its celebration. Part of me wants to attribute it to my Southern roots, but honestly, I have no idea if that’s it. All I do know is that Kwanzaa just wasn’t a thing where I’m from. When I got to Morehouse College—a much more intentionally and actively pro-Black environment—nobody in my immediate circle talked about it much, though several of my homies did, in fact, celebrate it with their families at various points in their lives.

At some point, as I became much more opinionated and vocal about those opinions, I remember being firmly in the anti-Kwanzaa camp, though, I can’t ever remember having a significant reason why. Over time, as I’ve gotten more into my own personal relationship with Blackness, and especially the celebration of said Blackness, I’ve found that any objections I had pretty much evaporated once I started researching the principles, etc. My biggest objection seemed to be the African-leaning nature of it (the Swahili terminology, the West Africany symbology, etc.) but even that is a dumb reason for objection; hell, I was probably wearing a dashiki while objecting. And, true story, since I never celebrated I really had no idea what I wasn’t celebrating or missing. As it turns out, Kwanzaa can be a whole-ass Black proud party. Who knew...aside from everybody who celebrated Kwanzaa?

Over time, I felt the resistance cracking since I didn’t really have a good resistance in the first place. In 2017, I even participated in this video: Kwanzaa Is Like Christmas, But 7 Times Blacker. I didn’t celebrate it then, or in 2018 or 2019, but in 2020, something changed (aside from being knee-deep in a global pandemic).

In what might be a small glimpse into how my mind works, I was scrolling through Instagram one-day in early December, when I saw a post by a Black-owned business I patronize in Washington, D.C., Nubian Hueman (whose owner, Anika Hobbs, I interviewed for VSB’s “Minding Our Black Business” short series), advertising a “Kwanzaa Kit” that they sell that included everything you would need to celebrate Kwanzaa and I said to myself, “Self, I should buy a Kwanzaa kit and force my family to celebrate Kwanzaa this year. Let’s buy two kits.” So I did. And then I told my wife I bought a Kwanzaa kit and well, that was it. For the record, she initially presented some minor hesitation until I think she had the same realization I did about it all: why not?

Also, I bought two kits so that I could give one to a homie who I figured might be inclined to celebrate Kwanzaa for the same reasons. I was right.

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Now, I don’t know if this is a function of me paying more attention now because I decided to celebrate, or if this 2020 racial uprising significantly increased the number of people whose pro-Blackness includes Kwanzaa, but the number of Kwanzaa related posts I saw on social media dwarfed the amount I’ve ever seen in my life. I saw folks celebrating with daily posts, family pictures, videos of family discussions about the principles, etc. What used to seem and feel like a niche inside the Black community felt more present than ever. My own family, using the guide present in the kit we purchased (and after watching some videos and following along with friends of mine who celebrate Kwanzaa annually), set up each of Kwanzaa’s seven nights (starting on December 26) to light the appropriate candles in the kinara—the candle holder for Kwanzaa—and had a discussion about the Nguzo Saba and the corresponding principle for the day. In a world where I used to mispronounce the words, I now know them by heart (and by candle): Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective works and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).

My family used each night to discuss what the day’s principle meant to us individually (even including my 5- and 4-year-olds in the convo) and then discussed how we employ said principle into our daily lives. It was interesting to hear how we each interpret the principles. It also forced us to think about what they all really mean in relation to our personal relationships with the Black community. I didn’t feel corny or inauthentic while lighting the candles or discussing. I did have some trouble figuring out the appropriate way to close out each evening; we decided on both a short drum solo by yours truly and one of my kids singing a song he learned at school, but I mean, we’ll figure it out by next year.

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It made me realize how interesting and enjoyable this type of activity could be in a communal setting with music and entertainment and discussion and food and whatnot. Hopefully when the world returns to some form of normal where many can gather safely and reasonably that’s exactly what will happen—large scale Kwanzaa celebrations. And yes, that means my family will be celebrating it in the future and hopefully I can even enlist a greater family participation. We shall see.

So yeah, that’s my family’s newfound foray into Kwanzaa. I enjoyed it and I’m glad we did it.

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Habari Gani?

Kwanzaa.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.

DISCUSSION

illinimike
IlliniMike

Very cool, Panama, thanks for sharing. I look forward to sharing this article on Facebook to bait the other whites into saying some dumb shit. (Just kidding. Those people don’t stay Facebook friends with me anyway.)

Not to be overly obvious, but I’d guess the fact that it’s still not widely celebrated or well-known is for no other reason than it’s only like 50-60 years old, and most of the other major holidays in that season have been around for thousands of years.