Celebrating Kwanzaa

Cultural heritage and focus on family characterizes this holiday

With his dad the vice chairman of Organization Us, the group that created Kwanzaa, Anthony Daniels-Halisi grew up in a home steeped in Kwanzaa celebrations. He knows the traditions and principals by heart and waxes poetic when he describes what the holiday means to him and his family.

"Sometimes the culture in the United States isn't our culture, because we're a minority as African- Americans," he says. "What's powerful about [Kwanzaa] is that it gives kids a root in who they are as African people in America."

Maulana Karenga created the holiday in 1965 as black activism and civil rights were sweeping the country. "He felt like we needed to reclaim our cultural roots, reclaim what's best about our African culture," Daniels-Halisi says.

Despite its proximity to Christmas, Kwanzaa is a purely cultural celebration, promoting African heritage and reinforcing the ideas of family and community. Kwanzaa's building blocks are the Nguzo Saba (Swahili for "Seven Principles")-unity, purpose, creativity and faith among them.

Every December, a flurry of activity sweeps Daniels-Halisi's Dearborn Park home. His 5-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son work extra hard on the commitments they made the previous year and his wife starts brainstorming a project to celebrate the fifth day, Kuumba (creativity). Daniels-Halisi pulls out the family's kinara (candle holder), unity cup and flag and pores over the seven principles, pondering the best way to reinforce them to his kids for the coming year.

The family spends the seven days of Kwanzaa (Dec. 26 to Jan. 1) going to community celebrations around Chicago as well as doing their own rituals at home. Along with lighting the candles and cooking up healthy soul food, Daniels-Halisi delves into the meaning of each day with his kids.

The family exchanges gifts during Kwanzaa, but only culturally significant ones like African clothing, sculptures or games that teach the kids about their heritage.

"The point is doing something positive and intergenerational," Daniels-Halisi says.

This year, for the 40th anniversary of Kwanzaa, Karenga will speak at the South Shore Cultural Center at 7059 S. Shore Drive, Chicago. Call (773) 256-0149 for details.

Katie Holland


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