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Kwanzaa Celebrates Cultural, Family Values

Alexandria's Black History Museum offers the gift of heritage exploration.

"Kwanzaa doesn't focus on material elements. It isn't about buying. It's about using what you have available. It's not about spending money. It's about honoring your family," said Audrey Davis, assistant director/curator for the Alexandria Black History Museum.

Davis was talking about of the week-long celebration known as Kwanzaa, which begins on Dec. 26. On Dec. 10, more than 50 people attended a craft and game workshop to find inexpensive ways of incorporating the celebration into their lives.

Each year the museum's staff and a special guest speakers conduct a two-hour learning session about the origins and meaning of the observance. Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 in the midst of the Black Freedom Movement as a way for African Americans to reaffirm their heritage and culture as well as their bonds to one another as a community. The program is geared to both adults and children. It is specifically designed to be a hands-on type presentation where the audience participates.

"This year we decided to give everyone who attended an overview of all aspects of Kwanzaa," Davis said. As a special feature Vann-Di Galloway a noted area storyteller, related stories of African American heritage and ancestry.

"We try to do something different every year so that those that come back have something new to experience," said Lillian Patterson, museum curator. "This year's audience is much bigger than last year. I suspect because the weather is much better."

Dr. Karenga chose the Swahili word "Kwanzaa," meaning "first fruits of the harvest," to identify the celebration and to summarize the seven principles that came from the African American value system for life. They are "Umoja" for unity; "Jujichagulia" for "self-determination"; collective work and responsibility, or "Ujima"; cooperative economics or "Ujamaa"; purpose or "Nia"; "Kuumba" for creativity; and 'Imani" representing faith.

These principles are accompanied by seven Kwanzaa symbols. They are the crock, mat, candle holder, corn, seven candles, unity cup, and personally made gifts, "The gifts are about connections with others," said Brian Sales, a museum volunteer who lead the program.

One of the most important symbols of Kwanzaa is the candle holder, known as the Kinara, and the seven candles it holds. One is lighted each night throughout the week celebration.

Kwanzaa literature emphasizes, that the Kinara not be confused with the Menorah used in the Hebrew faith. The Kinara holds the seven candles to reflect the seven principles which form Kwanzaa's foundation."

Candles in the Kinara are black, red and green. A black candle is lit first on Dec. 26.

THESE THREE COLORS are utilized in many ways throughout the Kwanzaa observance — in decorations and gift-wrapping. Black is for the people, red is for the blood spilled in their struggles, and green represents the future.

Kwanzaa ends on Dec. 31 with a feast. That is followed by a "Day of Assessment" on Jan. 1.

According to an article in the New York Times when Kwanzaa was introduced here, Karenga who added the extra "a" at the end of the word. This was done to emphasize the difference between the African American celebration and the original African observance.

"This should not be viewed as a substitute for the holy observance. Kwanzaa is a special time for people to commit themselves to one another," Sales said. "It is a time to celebrate our African American culture as Americans."