It's not the gift that's important, it's the giving. Gifts are not intended to be expensive. And, the gifts should have a learning value.
These goals seem perfectly suited to convey the true meaning of Christmas. But they are not about Christmas. They are the guiding principles of Kwanzaa which begins on December 26 and concludes January 1.
"Kwanzaa is not a substitute for Christmas. Nor is it a political or religious celebration. It is a reaffirmation of African American values of family, community responsibility, commerce, and self-improvement," said Lillian Patterson, museum specialist at the Alexandria Black History Resource Center last Saturday morning.
It was 11 a.m. and for the third consecutive year the Kwanzaa Gift Making Class was about to start. It is designed to help attendees learn how to make gifts from items they have around the house, thereby not involving the expenditure of a lot of money, according to Audrey Davis, assistant director/curator of the museum.
"It is structured so that all ages can participate and learn. We also emphasize gifts that can be constructed in a short amount of time and are related to the meanings and symbols of Kwanzaa," Davis stated.
Residents from throughout the metropolitan area congregate at the center at 984 N. Alfred Street, to learn and participate in the gift- making process. Sandra Oberton teaches second, fourth, and fifth grades at Oak Ridge Elementary School in Arlington. "I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to learn something I can take back and teach my students," she said.
Coming all the way from Gaithersburg, Md., were Mirian Mokvena and her young son, Thabiso. "This is a great experience and one we both can participate in," she acknowledged.
AT ANOTHER TABLE, learning to make mats, were Ellen Bollar, Toni Jenkins and Carol Gray. They were being instructed by Tamiko Muhammad, museum aide. In addition to Patterson, Davis, and Muhammad as instructors, there was also Hasani Olujimi from Washington, D.C.
"Gifts for Kwanzaa are supposed to be made, not purchased, Patterson pointed out. "It speaks to the old adage, "Idle hands are the devil's workshop," she said.
"It is very important that the gifts also have a learning value," Patterson emphasized. "Each of the items usually incorporate the three colors of Kwanzaa — black, red and green."
These colors are worked into all decorations and gifts for Kwanzaa celebration. As Patterson explained, "Black is for the people, red is for the blood spilled in the struggle, and green represents the future."
Patterson noted, "Kwanzaa means first fruit of the harvest." A prime element of that is corn. "Ears of corn represent the children and the future," she said.
Some of the gifts being created at the Center last Saturday were:
*Mkeka: A place mat, usually of straw, but being made from construction paper. Strips of paper are cut in one inch widths, woven together and glued.
*Kwanzaa pins: Six very small safety pins each filled with red, green, black, and yellow seed beads. These are placed on a larger safety pin which can be attached to clothing.
*Candle holders: Small jars filled to approximately one half inch of the top with either bird seed, sand, pebbles, or marbles. These are glued in place and topped with a votive candle.
*Garland decoration: Plain self-adhesive dots that are colored with Kwanzaa colors, attached, back-to-back on to button thread.
*Personalized cards made out of construction paper printed with self applied stencil designs and a hand written message.
KWANZAA IS CELEBRATED for seven days and is marked by a candle for each day which symbolize the seven guiding principles. They are:
*Umoja: Unity which stresses the importance of togetherness for the family and the community.
*Kulichagulia: Self-Determination requires the defining of common interests and decision making based on the best interests of the family and community.
*Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility reminding of obligations to the past, present, and future and the need to play a role in the community, society, and world.
*Ujamaa: Cooperative economics emphasizes collective economic strength and encourages meeting common needs through mutual support.
*Nia: Encouragement for each individual to look within their own being to set personal goals that are beneficial to the community.
*Kuumba: Creativity that uses individual creative energy to build and maintain a strong and vibrant community.
*Imani: Faith focused on honoring the best African American traditions and draws upon the best in each individual, to strive for a higher level of life for humankind by affirming self-worth and confidence in the ability to succeed and triumph in a righteous struggle.
As pointed out in Kwanzaa literature, "It is important that the Kinara not be confused with the menorah. The Knara holds the seven candles to reflect the seven principles which are the foundation of Kwanzaa."
THE ANNUAL observance ends on December 31 with the Kwanzaa Feast or Karamu. According to Dr. Maulana Karenga, who founded Kwanzaa in 1966, "It is a very special event as it is the one Kwanzaa event that brings us closer to our African roots. The Karamu is a communal and cooperative effort."
It was Karanga who added the extra "a" to Kwanzaa. He did this to reflect the difference between the African American celebration and the original African spelling of "Kwanza," as explained in the New York Times at the time of the initial American celebration.
In establishing the suggested guidelines for the Karamu, Karenga emphasized, "Prior to and during the feast, an informative and entertaining program should be presented." It should involve "welcoming, remembering, reassessment, recommitment and rejoicing, concluded by a farewell statement and a call for greater unity."