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Kwanzaa celebration under way

POSTED: December 29, 2008 10:00 a.m.

Almost everyone is familiar with the phrase “Merry Christmas.”  No matter what language it is said in, the day it refers to — the birth of Christ — is almost universally known.
But can the same be said for the secular holiday that honors African-American culture and history – Kwanzaa?
“Mmmm … I don’t know what Kwanzaa is,” said Hinesville resident Ebony Dekle. “I’ve heard of it but I don’t know what it is.”
Friday was the first day of the African-American and Pan-African holiday whose name is derived from the Swahili phrase “matundaya kwanza” or “first fruits.”
From Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, people who celebrate Kwanzaa will light seven candles in a “kinar” or candleholder.
There is one black candle to symbolize the color of the black people, three red candles to symbolize their struggle, and three green candles used to symbolize the future and the hope that came from their struggle.
Although Kwanzaa was not created as a replacement for Christmas or New Year’s, Geechee Kunda’s Jim Bacote thinks Kwanzaa has been subconsciously overlooked because of the two.

“People are so caught up in the Dec. 25 to Jan. 1st holidays,” said Bacote, the co-founder of the Riceboro cultural center and museum. “It’s been a powerful marketing effort that has been put into the commercial aspect of Christmas, and it’s overwhelming.”
Another reason Bacote gives for people’s unfamiliarity with the holiday is ignorance.
‘Kwanzaa is relatively new,” he said. “You have to really understand and appreciate the concern that caused Dr. Karenga to push for the holiday to formally exist.”
Kwanzaa was established in 1966 by social activist Maulana Karenga. At the time, Karenga was a professor of black studies at California State University.
Bacote said Karenga recognized the need to preserve, revitalize and promote African-American culture.
“Kwanzaa was created to introduce and reinforce the ‘nguzo saba’ or seven basic values of African culture,” he said, “the building and reinforcing of family, community and culture among the African-American people.”
“The holiday is very valuable and could be a powerful tool in helping us re-establish the family ties and the sense of community that was lost because of our history and what happened to us. Not only are these (principles) valuable for Kwanzaa, but these are principles that we should adopt and use in our everyday lives.”
Bacote said he hopes there’s a day in the not-so-distant future when Kwanzaa’s principles are followed by all people. 
“… Here in America, at some point, it is going to be necessary that we come together on one accord and share all things that are positive,” he said.

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