Break out the drums, paints, poetry, and delicious food. Kwanzaa, a celebration of life and harvest, is here to close out the year.
The holiday began in 1966, introduced by Dr. Maulana Karenga, as a way to help Black Americans focus on their honorable history and pride in the midst of struggles for liberation and equity. Kwanzaa is a cultural, ethnic, and spiritual holiday featuring seven days of self-reflection. On each day between December 26 and the first of January, a candle, first black then alternating red and green, is lit on a candeholder called a kinara to represent a moral value or principle in pan-African life.
The words for each day, in the east African language Swahili, are: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).
Singing, dancing, African drumming, storytelling, poetry reading, and feasting runs throughout the week. Handmade gifts and books are given across generations to develop communal affection and strength, says Donna “Jawana” Norris, Denver artist and Kwanzaa Project Weaver.
“Kwanzaa provides an opportunity for all people regardless of race and ethnicity to learn about the lives of Black people. To reflect on self and community by way of the Black experience, drawing from its strength to realize new futures,” Norris adds. “Kwanzaa is a reflective time to shine a light on recommitting to the good.”
Norris encourages getting kids into the Kuumba (creativity) spirit by making a drum and contributing to the joyful noise.
- One cylindrical canister with a bottom and top (oatmeal or disinfectant wipes container)
- Fabric or construction paper
- Markers or crayons
- Tape, glue, or Mod Podge
- Glitter, beads, stickers, twine (optional)
- Cut fabric or construction paper to fit the sides of the canister. Note: If you chose paper, draw a Kwanzaa symbol (kinara, unity cup, corn, flag) or a unique design on your paper.
- Adhere fabric or paper around the sides of the canister with tape or glue.
- Use glue to affix glitter, jewels, beads or twine (optional).
Have fun using your drum!
Put on some music—check out Ghanian drummer Emmanuel Nii Bortey Annang, owner of South Rhythm African Drumming in Colorado Springs. On Facebook @soulrhythmafricandrumming and YouTube at Soul Rhythm African Drumming.
Denver’s Five Points neighborhood is a gathering spot for Kwanzaa celebrations each year. Community members gather around the Kinara at night to share in traditions and reflect on the lives of Black people. According to Norris, the gathering may still take place with social distancing or online. Follow Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center, Denver Urban Spectrum, or Cleo Parker Robinson Dance for news about Kwanzaa in Denver this year.