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Holidays are shared celebrations. What is your favorite holiday? How do you celebrate it? Many holidays are held to remember famous people or historic events. In the following selections, you will read about some uncommon holidays celebrated around the world.
C O N T E N T S
by Deborah M. Newton Chocolate
by the Editors of FACES and Tran Phuong Hoa
by Deborah M. Newton Chocolate
illustrated by Melodye Rosales
Every year, from the day after Christmas until the first day of the new year, our family celebrates Kwanzaa!
Kwanzaa is an African-American celebration. The name comes from the East African Swahili word kwanza, meaning "the first." Kwanzaa is a gathering time, just like Thanksgiving or a family reunion. Many of our ancestors were farmers. The seven principles of Kwanzaa celebrate African harvest time and a way of life handed down to us by our ancestors and parents.
In keeping with the spirit of Kwanzaa, Mama wears a lappa or buba, which is an African dress. She braids her hair into beautiful cornrows.
Daddy and Allen and I wear dashikis or kanzus. This is traditional dress for African men. We wear kofis on our heads and beads around our necks.
We decorate our home in the black, red, and green colors of Kwanzaa. We fly our bendera, or flag. Black is for the color of our people. Red is for our continuing struggle. And green is for the lush, rolling hills of our beautiful motherland, Africa. Green also is the color of hope, represented by African-American children. Together we prepare a table for the Kwanzaa karamu, or feast.
Mama puts a mkeka, or straw mat, on the table. Aunt Ife wove it for the celebration. In Africa it is an old custom to make things by hand. The hand woven mkeka stands for our past.
On top of the mkeka, Daddy puts a kinara, or candle holder. The kinara is the holder of the flame. It stands for all black people, both past and present. The mishumaa saba, or seven candles in the kinara, stand for the seven Kwanzaa principles that teach us how to live.
Allen places a basket filled with mazao, or crops, on the table. It is a symbol of the African harvest and thanksgiving. We gather with our relatives to give thanks just as our ancestors did.
I put vibunzi, or ears of corn, on the table. The ears of corn stand for the number of children in the home. Our table has two ears of corn.
We show our love for our family through the zawadi, or gifts, we make. On the night before the last day of Kwanzaa, we give our parents gifts that remind us of Africa and our African-American ancestors. Allen and I earn our gifts by keeping the promises we made in the past year.
Each day, from sunrise to sunset, we do not eat. In the evening we gather in a circle around the karamu table. We share our home and food with family and friends, just as our ancestors shared the fruits of the hunt and the harvest.
Each night a candle is lit and one of the seven Kwanzaa principles is recited. On the first day of Kwanzaa, Daddy lights the black candle in the center of the kinara.
mishumaa saba (mee SHOO-mah SAH-bah)
"Harambee!" he says.
"Harambee!" we answer. He recites the first principle of the nguzo saba, the seven principles of Kwanzaa. "Umoja means unity," says Daddy. "On this first day of Kwanzaa, let us remember the importance of unity in the family. Let us love one another and stand up for one another. Let us honor our ancestors by celebrating our past."
We pass the kikombe cha umoja, or unity cup. We pour a libation, an offering to the memory of our ancestors, in the direction of the four winds-north, south, east, and west. And then, to honor our ancestors and in the spirit of unity, each person takes a sip. The delicious aromas of collard greens simmering in sweet meat, black-eyed peas, and buttermilk cornbread mean it is time for the first karamu, or feast. We eat black-eyed peas for good luck and greens for
nguzo saba (n-GOO-zoo SAH-bah)
kikambe cha umaja (Ree-KOOM-bay CHA oo-MO-jah)
prosperity. There are platters of fried chicken and baked catfish. For dessert, there is sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, rice pudding, and carrot cake.
Mufaro, a cousin, and Allen and I play congas. The rhythm is a heartbeat that brings everyone to their feet. Everyone dances to the music we make.
On the second day of Kwanzaa, Uncle Buddy lights a red candle in the kinara. "Always do the right thing," says Uncle Buddy. "Always stand up for what is right. This is what kujichagulia, or self-determination, means."
Uncle Buddy passes the kikombe, or cup. He recalls the days when he was a boy living on a sharecropping farm down south. He tells us stories about our grandfathers. He remembers the name of the village in Africa where his great-great grandmother was born.
"Habari gani?" ("What's the news?") greets Mama. "Ujima!" everyone answers.
"Today I light the third candle of Kwanzaa for ujima!"
The glow from the flame dances across Mama's dark face. Shadows fill the room. Mama takes an ear of corn from the basket. "Ujima stands for collective work and responsibility. Our corn," she explains, "reminds us of the harvest that comes from ujima. Without work, there is no reward, no harvest for our people."
A family photo album, a cane-bottomed basket, a flatiron, and a set of wedding rings are some of the things that have been handed down in our family from generation to generation. We hear the story that goes with each of them. There is a top hat that belonged to my great-great grandfather, and a feathered headband that belonged to my great-great grandmother. Our great-great grandparents once sang and danced in traveling stage shows across the South.
habari gani (hah-BAH-ree GAH-nee)
Mufaro stands behind the kinara and lights the candle for the fourth celebration day, a red one, for ujamma. "Ujamma means 'cooperative economics.' My family honors ujamma by helping me finish school. When I become a doctor, I'll come back to the community and help out."
Nia means "purpose." On the fifth day, I light a green candle. I greet everyone with, "Harambee!" "Harambee!" they answer.
"I have a purpose, no matter how small. My purpose is to keep promises and to honor my ancestors and parents." Both Mama and Daddy give me a great big hug after the kikombe cha umoja is passed around.
On New Year's Eve we celebrate the sixth principle of Kwanzaa, which is kuumba, or creativity. We work on the gifts we will exchange. There is more music and song and dance. Some of the music is African and some of it is African-American. Cousin Ebon plays a thumb piano. Uncle Will dances a cakewalk to it.
nia (NEE-A) kuumba (koo-OOM-bah)
Later that evening, we present our gifts. Allen and I give Mama a tie-dyed red, black, and green gele, or head wrap, made in art class. For Daddy we have a hand-carved flute.
Mama and Daddy surprise us with pocket watches that once belonged to our grandfathers. After midnight, in the early morning of New Year's Day, Grandma Lela lights the last candle in honor of Kwanzaa. She recites the principle of imani, which means "faith." "It is up to us to keep the faith of our ancestors. We must always stand together and be strong." She talks about Sojourner Truth and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "Let imani burn as a flame in our hearts in the coming year," Grandma says. "Let it light our way until we gather to celebrate this time next year."
THINK IT OVER
1. How does the family in the selection celebrate Kwanzaa?
2. What part of the Kwanzaa celebration would you enjoy most? Explain why you would enjoy some parts more than others. 3. What are the colors of Kwanzaa? What does each color represent?
4. Why do family members exchange gifts during Kwanzaa?
Imagine that you and your family have just finished celebrating one of the nights of Kwanzaa. Write a journal entry telling about what you have just observed or learned.
By the Editors of FACES and Tran Phuong Hoa
Illustrated by Christoph Blumrich
When your birthday comes, your family and friends often celebrate with a party, a cake, and gifts-with you as the star. That kind of celebration is private: The people who know you want to say they're glad you were born and wish you well in the coming year.
A birthday celebration also can be public, and then it becomes a holiday. Our national holidays celebrating the birthdays of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr., honor them as heroes of American life. Holidays like the Fourth of July and Columbus Day also celebrate birthdays-the birthdays of historic events. People in other countries have similar holidays that mark important people and events in their past, and people all over the world celebrate the birth of the new year.
Our New Year's celebration, set by a calendar linked to the sun, always falls on the same date and lasts for a night and a day. In Indonesia, the Ngaju people on the island of Borneo link their new year to the spring planting of rice, their staple food. Their big celebration is the two-month Harvest Festival that gives thanks for the rice crop and encourages another year to begin. The Asante people in Ghana, West Africa, celebrate with parades and festivities when they harvest the first ripe yams.
Some of the Africans from Ghana and other places who have immigrated to the United States now celebrate Kwanzaa, a new holiday that keeps their native traditions alive. In Japan, children are honored on May 5, Children's Day. You can participate in that celebration by making a flying fish to display in your yard. And Carnival is the holiday when Caribbean peoples dress in exotic costumes and march in colorful parades. Carnival often is linked with Christmas or the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar.
The Vietnamese follow the lunar calendar when fixing the dates of their festivals. The most important Vietnamese holiday, Tet, marks the lunar New Year. Tet is a joyous time filled with wonderful sounds, colors, and scents.
In Hanoi, the capital city, families prepare for Tet by buying flowers, decorations, firecrackers, new clothes, and gifts and cooking Banh Chung cakes, the special
Tet food. No family's Tet would be complete without having a peach tree in blossom or a mandarin orange tree in fruit in a corner of the living room. This is no easy feat, since Tet comes in the middle of winter. But the special effort pays off, as the flowers decorating every market, street, and home help the people to forget momentarily the gray winter skies over Hanoi.
Each family makes a Banh Chung cake from sticky rice, pork, and beans, all wrapped in large green arrowroot leaves and boiled in a drum for 12 hours. Family members sit around the fire, keeping it going and exchanging stories about the past year and their hopes for the coming one. A "Tet air" brightens conversations and adds a touch of spring to everyone's heart.
Holidays can be celebrated in many ways. How is the celebration of Kwanzaa similar to the celebration of Tet? How are they different?
What holiday that you and your family celebrate is most like Kwanzaa? Describe the similarities and differences in the way your holiday and Kwanzaa are celebrated.
Think about a time of year that you enjoy. Invent a holiday you would like to celebrate then. Your holiday may be in honor of a person or a special happening in your family or school. You may want to combine parts of three or four holidays that you celebrate. Write a story about a celebration of your invented holiday.
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