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How to celebrate Kwanzaa in Bloomington


Decorations line the halls Dec. 4 of the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center.

Kwanzaa doesn’t start until Dec. 26. But those celebrating, including the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center and the Black Graduate Student Association, are already planning festivities, which center around feasts, gifts and bright colors.

Kwanzaa is a celebration meant to honor the African heritage in African-American culture, and the festivities focus on giving and community. The holiday goes from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

Bloomington Kwanzaa celebrations have already begun. The Black Graduate Student Association had an event Monday, Shanalee Galllimore, a member of the association, said. The event was a Kwanzaa celebration along with the organization’s normal meeting. 

"We had a mix of both graduate students and professionals," Gallimore said. "The program merged with our holiday party which was a great fit. It was my first time attending or even learning about Kwanzaa in general."

The Neal-Marshall Center is also planning a Kwanzaa celebration. The date has not been decided yet, but Monica Johnson, director of the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center, said the event typically centers around the same traditions.

Kwanzaa was created by Maulana Karenga during the black nationalist movement in the 1960s, Johnson said. Karenga originally designed it as a way for African Americans to reconnect with their African heritage, beginning with meditation, studying African traditions and the seven cultural principles, known as Nguzo Saba. Kwanzaa was first officially celebrated in 1966. In a 2006 speech, Karenga estimated that 28 million people around the world celebrate Kwanzaa.

“The holiday is about people coming together and the entrepreneurial spirit,” Johnson, said. “It usually includes sharing handmade gifts.”

The seven days of Kwanzaa are each dedicated to a different value. These principles, in order, are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

In the traditional sense, Kwanzaa includes colorful decorations and art. Kwanzaa is often celebrated around the same time as Christmas, this year beginning Dec. 26. It is typical to celebrate with a Christmas tree and kinara candles. The kinara candle holder consists of three red candles on the left, three Johnson on the right and one black candle in the middle.

Each kinara candle represents a day of Kwanzaa, and one is lit every day. 

Johnson said the candle, a traditional part of Kwanzaa, is a symbol that represents celebrating each day together.

Another common symbol is the unity cup, called Kikombe cha Umoja.

Johnson said harvest-centered items like corn and fruit are often used.  

Other Kwanzaa celebrations may surface as it gets closer to the holiday.

“At the end of the day, the holiday is not about material things,” Johnson said. “It’s about collective works and showing a community effort.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly named Monica Johnson as Monica Green. The story also used a photo of a Kwanzaa celebration from 2010 that incorrectly identified the date of the celebration. Two incorrect direct quotes have also been paraphrased for clarification. The IDS regrets these errors.

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