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Kwanzaa - ( NOT an alternative Christmas )
Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia
Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia
Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday celebrated in African communities around the world. It's more than thirty years old.

It lasts seven days, beginning on December 26th and lasting until January 1st.

Celebrations in Nottinghamshire
Although Kwanzaa has its origins in America (it was first celebrated in December 1966), it wasn't started in Britain until the early 70's.

It's a family based gathering but on Friday December 28th, 2001 at the ACFF Education and Cultural Centre on Beaconsfield Street in Hyson Green, the doors will be opened for a bigger festival.

Speaker reminds the gathered about their ancestors

An elder from the community will give thanks to their ancestors and then children and adults will sing, play instruments and read poetry.

When the programme concludes everyone will join together to eat, drink and chat.

It's the sixth year such a large scale event has been held in the city, a sign that Kwanzaa is becoming an important date in the African and African Caribbean calendar.

What is Kwanzaa?

Klein Aus South. Namibia
Klein Aus South. Namibia
Those who celebrate the holiday are keen to point out it's not a black alternative to Christmas.

Kwanzaa is non-religious, spiritual and cultural. The closest celebration it can be associated with is harvest festival since it reflects the reaping of crops and thanking the creator for a successful growing season. Indeed Kwanzaa means "first fruits of the harvest."

Beating out a familiar rhythm

Gifts are given at this time but they are mainly of an academic or spiritual nature so pens, notepads and bangles are the order of the day.

A time to reflect
At the same time the seven day celebration gives people the chance to look back on what they've achieved in the previous twelve months and what they want to do in the following year. It's also an opportunity to think about their African roots as well as their present day life.

It's no coincidence the festival period stretches from 26th December to January 1st since in Africa this week tends to cover harvesting time.


Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia
Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia

The week long festival of Kwanzaa focusses on seven basic values of African culture which help build and reinforce the family, community and culture.

Each day, from the 26th December, concentrates on one of the principles.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa

December 26th - Umoja (unity)
A day to strive for unity, not only within the family, but the community, nation and race as a whole. It's reflected in the African saying "I am We" or "I am because We are."

Time for food
Sampling the gastronomic delights

December 27th - Kujichagulia (self determination)
A day to find out more about yourself in terms of defining yourself and speaking up for yourself, as opposed to being defined by others and having others speak for you. It's a chance plan a positive future and make sure that dream becomes a reality.

December 28th - Ujima (collective work and responsibility)
It encourages people to build and maintain the community as a team and to help solve people's problems together.

Time to reflect
A time to reflect

December 29th - Ujamaa (co-operative economics)
A pledge to develop local African businesses and to support them, to maintain shops, stores and industry that contribute to the well-being of the community and to drive out businesses (boycott, etc.) that take from the community and give nothing back.

December 30th - Nia (purpose)
On the fifth day people pledge to build and develop their communities, schools and families. The day also aims to ensure the traditions of the people are passed down the generations.

December 31st - Kuumba (creativity)
A day to make the community more beautiful, either by working on the home or using creative talents to benefit the young.

January 1st - Imani (faith)
On the final day the new year is celebrated by a pledge to firmly believe in the African people, parents, teachers and leaders and in the greater good of the work done with, and for, one another, for the community and for the people.

Lighting the candles
Lighting the candles which are held in the Kinara

Celebrating Kwanzaa
Over this seven day period the house should be decorated in the colours associated with Kwanzaa- red, green and black.

Streamers, balloons and cloth should be of these colours while the displaying of original arts and crafts is also encouraged.

Black represents the face of the African people, red, the blood they have shed over the centuries and green shows the hope and colour of the motherland.

When lighting the candles (Mishumaa Saba) on the candle holder (kinara), the black candle is lit first as this represents the first principle Umoja (Unity). Second to be lit is the red candle to the immediate left of the black candle (second principle, Kujichagulia). On the third day, the green candle to the immediate right of the black is lit and so on for the 7 days.

Traditional recipes play an important part in Kwanzaa. Food like Sweet Potato Pie, Southern Fried Okra, traditional African stews and Benne cakes are all likely to find their way onto the festival table.

The feast of Karamu
One of the big events of the week, Karamu is held on December 31st. It's a communal event designed to bring everyone closer to their African roots. It begins with a welcoming, then during the feast, time will be taken to tell stories about previous generations, recommitment to the community and concludes with a farewell statement calling for greater unity.