Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African-American culture held in the United States from December 26 to January 1, culminating in gift-giving and a feast of faith, called Karamu Ya Imani. Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966. The holiday was created by the American black separatist Maulana Karenga. The celebration of the Kwanzaa holiday has steadily declined as interest in and support of black separatism has declined in the United States.
History and etymology
American Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 as a specifically African-American holiday. Karenga said his goal was to "give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society." Kwanzaa is a celebration with its roots in Marxism and in Black separatism. For Karenga, a major figure in the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the creation of such holidays also underscored the essential premise that "you must have a cultural revolution before the violent revolution. The cultural revolution gives identity, purpose, and direction."
According to Karenga, the name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning "first fruits of the harvest". A more conventional translation would simply be "first fruits". The choice of Swahili, an East African language, is a historic, as most of the Atlantic slave trade that brought African people to America originated in West Africa. Firstfruits festivals exist in Southern Africa, celebrated in December/January with the southern solstice, and Karenga was partly inspired by an account he read of the Zulu festival Umkhosi Wokweshwama. It was decided to spell the holiday's name with an additional "a" so that it would have a symbolic seven letters.
During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga said it was meant to be an alternative to Christmas. He believed Jesus was psychotic and Christianity was a "White" religion that Black people should shun. As Kwanzaa gained mainstream adherents, Karenga altered his position so practicing Christians would not be alienated, then stating in the 1997 Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday. Many African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa do so in addition to observing Christmas.