Welcome to the David Victor Vector Blog

Welcome to the David Victor Vector blog. This is blog that covers religious observances around the world international affairs and global business. This blog describes religious holidays for most major religions as well as raising issues dealing with globalization, international business ethics, cross-cultural business communication and political events affecting business in an integrated world economy. I look forward your discussion and commentary on these articles and subjects. Enjoy!

Monday, December 26, 2011


Kwanzaa table
December 26 is the start of Kwanzaa. While this blog primarily only covers those celebrations that are religious in nature, I have been asked to say a few words about Kwanzaa although it is not particularly religious in origin or observance. Kwanzaa is a seven-day observance that begins annually on December 26.
It is difficult to estimate exactly the number of people who celebrate Kwanzaa. Figures range from 3 or 4 million to over 18 million, depending on who has gathered the information.  There is some indication (see references below), that the observance of Kwanzaa has diminished in recent years among those under 40.

Kwanzaa: An Overview

Kwanzaa is a secular holiday that begins on December 26 and runs through January 1. The Official Kwanzaa Website describes the celebration as follows:
Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday which celebrates family, community and culture. 
Kwanzaa takes its name from the Swahili "matunda ya kwanza," which translates as "first fruits of the harvest."  While there is no tradition of Kwanzaa in any Swahili-speaking country (or, for that matter, anywhere in Africa), the use of Swahili represented an attempt to tie African American heritage to that of an African language that had wide usage across several nations. 

Kwanzaa Observance

Kwanzaa observance centers primarily around seven principles with seven symbols. The best known of these symbols is the Kinara, a seven-branched candelabra similar to that of the Jewish holiday Chanukah (please see the Chanukah post at http://davidvictorvector.blogspot.com/2011/12/chanukah.html ) although with two fewer  branches. People celebrating Kwanzaa light a candle each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa. The candles are red, green and black reflecting the colors of the Pan-African movement. Each candle represents one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa in Swahili and English are listed below followed with  definitions by Dr. Maulanga Karenga who created Kwanzaa in 1966: 

  1. Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves stand up.
  3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.
  4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  5. Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  6. Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
  7. Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
                        --- Quoted from the Official Kwanzaa Website

The Seven Symbols of Kwanzaa roughly correspond to the Seven Principles. On the Official Kwanzaa Website, Maulanga Karenga describes these and their significance as:

1.      Mazao (The Crops): These are symbolic of African harvest celebrations and of the rewards of productive and collective labor.
2.      Mkeka (The Mat): This is symbolic of our tradition and history and therefore, the foundation on which we build.
3.      Kinara (The Candle Holder): This is symbolic of our roots, our parent people -- continental Africans.
4.      Muhindi (The Corn): This is symbolic of our children and our future which they embody.
5.      Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles): These are symbolic of the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, the matrix and minimum set of values which African people are urged to live by in order to rescue and reconstruct their lives in their own image and according to their own needs.
6.       Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup): This is symbolic of the foundational principle and practice of unity which makes all else possible.
7.      Zawadi (The Gifts): These are symbolic of the labor and love of parents and the commitments made and kept by the children.

Some people also dress in some version of traditional African clothing ranging from actual African clothing and headwraps to local adaptations in the form of daishikis or clothing with kente cloth.

Kwanzaa is a time for giving gifts of thanks and of recognition of the harvest. Many people give gifts of African-made products.

The History of  Kwanzaa

Birth of Kwanzaa

Dr. Maulanga Karenga
Kwanzaa is not an old holiday. In fact, 2016 marked it 50th year in practice. Kwanzaa was created only in 1966 by Dr. Maulanga Karenga, as an offshoot of the Organization Us (or United Slaves) which he co-founded with Hakim Jamal the previous year.

Karenga explains the celebration’s connection to Organization Us as follows:

Kwanzaa was created to reaffirm and restore our rootedness in African culture. It is, therefore, an expression of recovery and reconstruction of African culture which was being conducted in the general context of the Black Liberation Movement of the '60's and in the specific context of The Organization Us, the founding organization of Kwanzaa and the authoritative keeper of its tradition.

Controversy Regarding Karenga

Organization Us Logo
Because Organization Us had its roots in the black liberation movements of the 1960’s, the origins of Kwanzaa were seen in its earlier years as a black nationalist holiday. This impression was intensified following Maulanga Karenga’s conviction for assault and false imprisonment in 1971. Testimony in the case after he kidnapped two female followers, Deborah Jones and Gail Davis, whom he stripped of clothing then beat with an electric cord and karate baton, hit in the head with a toaster, and burnt with hot soldering guns. Additionally Karenga applied a vise to Davis’ toes while she was restrained.  

Because of Karenga’s conviction for this crime and his association with what they view as a militant organization, several critics both within and outside the African-American community condemned the holiday. This is a point acknowledged by those supporting the holiday as well. As Kerris Guinn put it in the Chicago Defender in December 2017, "the holiday is plagued with unsettling events that are to tie the celebration, thanks to its founder Dr. Karenga." https://chicagodefender.com/2017/12/23/what-has-happened-to-our-holiday-kwanzaa/ 

A quick survey of blog sites today show continued mixed reactions across the web toward Kwanzaa. Still, the holiday has held its popularity and even those aware of its controversial originator often argue for its positive impact. One blog that typifies such a view was posted in January 2011 on the Black Youth Project blog:

Despite the controversial past of its founder, Ron Karenga, Kwanzaa seemed to survive the 1980s Black Power purge relatively intact. Other ritual celebrations founded by Karenga such as Dhabihu (Malcolm X’s assassination day) and Kuzaliwa (Malcolm X’s birthday) have since perished in the minds and hearts of all but the serious Pan-Africans. Why did Kwanzaa have such staying power?
In its most basic form, Kwanzaa is a celebration of Black family, community and culture. It allows us to reflect on the past year and project into the next, focusing on strong values and moral principles such as unity, faith, self-determination, and purpose. Kwanzaa allows us, as individuals to position and examine ourselves in relation to our families and our communities. It’s a week long period of reflection, focusing on key principles that allow for personal growth. We all need that.

Kwanzaa’s Staying Power Independent of Karenga

Part of the reason for Kwanzaa’s staying power is precisely because Kwanzaa actually grew in popularity entirely independently from its founder. Indeed, while Karenga was in prison from 1971-1975, Organization Us more or less ceased to exist, yet Kwanzaa gained adherents.

This popularity in growth may have occurred at least in part because Kwanzaa received its first major press coverage on December 24, 1971 after Karenga went to prison. The article “Spirit of Kwanza: A Time of Giving -- Harlem Pupils Told of Ritual Celebrating Harvest” by Charlayne Hunter appeared in the New York Times (p. 28). The article makes no mention of Karenga or of Organization Us. Instead, the article discusses the visit of a 16-year-old Al Sharpton to Harlem’s Public School 68. Already an ordained Pentecostal minister and head of the National Youth Movement, Sharpton tells the schoolchildren (all between 7 and 9 years old) about the values of Kwanzaa and provides Kwanzaa traditions as a “way of de-whitizing or talking the commercialism out of this time of year” and indicating that “As black people, we need to stress the educational, cultural and communal aspects of the holiday… and doing things this way—getting presents together, learning together – gives us the feeling of unity we need.”

Another reason that Karenga’s controversial past was not as strong a factor as it might have been was that what some saw as Karenga’s extremist position was markedly tempered after his release from prison in 1975. Instead, Karenga revived Organization Us but made it less focused on black nationalism and more defined as a social change organization. Moreover, following Karenga’s years in prison, Kwanzaa became connected to but independent from Organization Us.  For example, the official Kwanzaa website is maintained by Organization Us but many organizations unassociated with Organization Us maintain information sites on Kwanzaa and conduct celebrations of Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa’s Evolution as an Inclusive Holiday

Reflecting the changes that had spread the holiday while he was in prison, Karenga significantly began to modify the focus of Kwanzaa as a celebration.  Karenga’s public position on Kwanzaa evolved. He changed his call to replace other traditions with Kwanzaa to one of providing Kwanzaa as a complementary alternative to existing holidays such as Christmas. In 1977, Karenga wrote that
was chosen to give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.

In 1997, Karenga totally revamped the position of Kwanzaa from one exclusively for Africans or African-Americans. Instead he wrote that
 other people can and do celebrate it, just like other people participate in Cinco de Mayo besides Mexicans; Chinese New Year besides Chinese; Native American pow wows besides Native Americans.

This position continues to this day as reflected on the current Official Kwanzaa Website, which states: 

USPS Kwanzaa Postage Stamp, 1977
Kwanzaa is not a reaction or substitute for anything. In fact, it offers a clear and self-conscious option, opportunity and chance to make a proactive choice, a self-affirming and positive choice as distinct from a reactive one.

Also in 1997, arguably reflecting the more inclusive nature of the revamped focus of the celebration, the US Postal Service issued its first official postage stamp for Kwanzaa.  The US Postal Service has continued the Kwanzaa postage stamp tradition each year since.

USPS Kwanzaa Postage Stamps (l to r) 2004,  2013 and 2016

In 2018, the US Postal Service issued a "Forever" stamp for Kwanzaa. Award-winning children's book illustrator Floyd Cooper designed the new stamp which shows a family of three in a mix of western and African clothing lighting their kinara at a table with various fruits and vegetables, three ears of corn and a unity cup.
Floyd Cooper's 2018 Kwanzaa stamp

In 2020, the US Postal Service issued its most recent "Forever" stamp for Kwanzaa. The new stamp was created by USPS art director Antonio Alcala based on the work of Stockholm-based Brazilian-American children's book author and illustrator Andrea Pippins. 
Andrea Pippins' 2020 Kwanzaa stamp

Presidential Recognition

Bill Clinton

Kwanzaa hit a milestone of recognition in 1997.  On December 22 of that year, President Bill Clinton became the first US President formally to wish Kwanzaa greetings to the nation. 

In the annual Presidential holiday messages traditionally wishing Christians a Merry Christmas and Jews a Happy Chanukah, President Clinton added this third message for Kwanzaa:

Warm greetings to everyone observing Kwanzaa. 
As America embarks on a season of renewal and reconciliation, the principles of Kwanzaa— unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith—ring true not only for African Americans, but also for all Americans. By emphasizing the importance of family in our lives and the blessings that come with a true commitment to community, opportunity, and responsibility, the celebration of Kwanzaa can help us to enter the future as a stronger nation and a more compassionate and united people.

The symbols and ceremony of Kwanzaa, evoking the rich history and heritage of African Americans, remind us that our nation draws much of its strength from our diversity. As millions of Americans observe Kwanzaa this year, let us renew our commitment to realizing America's promise as a land where all people are free to pursue our common dreams—to live in peace, to provide for our families, and to give our children the opportunity for a better life.

Hillary joins me in sending best wishes for a joyous Kwanzaa.

George W. Bush
This Presidential tradition continued in 2003 when George W. Bush's Kwanzaa greetings:

I send greetings to those observing Kwanzaa.
Celebrated by millions across the world, Kwanzaa honors the history and heritage of Africa. This seven-day observance is an opportunity for individuals of African descent to remember the sacrifices of their ancestors and reflect on the Nguzo Saba. Kwanzaas seven social and spiritual principles offer strength and guidance to meet the challenges of each new day.
During this joyous time of year, Americans renew our commitment to hope, understanding, and the great promise of our Nation. In honoring the traditions of Africa, Kwanzaa strengthens the ties that bind individuals in communities across our country and around the world.
Laura joins me in sending our best wishes for a joyous Kwanzaa.

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama continued the tradition of his predecessor in wishing Kwanzaa greetings to the nation for each of his eight years in office. In 2014, President Obama in particular gave attention to the holiday.  President Obama's statement came in the midst of protests and racial tensions following a string of incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, Cleveland, and New York City involving police violence against unarmed black men. President Obama words praised Kwanzaa:

Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to those celebrating Kwanzaa this holiday season. Today begins a celebration highlighting the rich African American heritage and culture through the seven principles of Kwanzaa — unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith… During this season, families come together to reflect on blessings of the past year and look forward to the promises in the year ahead. As we remain committed to building a country that provides opportunity for all, this time of year reminds us that there is much to be thankful for. As families around the world unite to light the Kinara today, our family extends our prayers and best wishes during this holiday season.

President Donald Trump continued the tradition of his predecessors with Kwanzaa greeting from the White House in 2016:

Today marks the first day of Kwanzaa, a weeklong celebration of African American heritage and culture. Together, let us celebrate during this joyous time the richness of the past and look with hope toward a brighter future.

As families and friends join to light the Kinara, Melania and I extend our warmest wishes for a joyful holiday season and a prosperous year to come.

Donald Trump
President Trump has remained a strong supporter of the benefit of Kwanzaa, in 2019 expressing his belief that Kwanzaa provides:

an opportunity to foster deeper cultural understanding and build stronger bonds of mutual respect and friendship between all Americans 

President Trump continued to praise Kwanzaa, emphasizing its longevity and expression of the African American contribution to US life, stating:

For more than 50 years, this weeklong celebration has been used to honor the heritage and culture African Americans share around the country and worldwide,” Mr. Trump said. “Every aspect of American life has been enriched by the countless contributions of African Americans.

President Trump continued his Kwanzaa wishes in 2020, emphasizing the contributions of African Americans to the nation: 

As families, friends, and communities light the Kinara over the next 7 days, our Nation honors the indelible contributions of African Americans to the strength and vitality of the United States


President Joe Biden continued the tradition of Presidential Kwanzaa greetings as President-Elect but (at the time of this update) had not issued an White House Press Statement. Instead he issued Kwanzaa wishes by Twitter and on Facebook

Jill and I send our heartfelt wishes to everyone celebrating Kwanzaa. We hope these days of reflection on the seven principles and the rich heritage of African-American culture bring peace, unity, and joy.

Happy Kwanzaa!

Want to Learn More?

For general overviews including presidential statements, please read

Mojo Alwode-El, "Kwanzaa 101 for the Uninitiated, Self-Conscious, or Confused," The Root, December 24, 2019, https://www.theroot.com/kwanzaa-101-for-the-uninitiated-self-conscious-or-con-1840612321

Dave Boyer, "Trumps send Kwanzaa greetings, praise 'countless contributions' of African Americans," Washington Post, December 26, 2019, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/dec/26/trumps-send-kwanzaa-greetings-praise-countless-con/ 

Frank Dobson, "What Kwanzaa means for black Americans," Chicago Tribune, December 20, 2017, http://www.chicagotribune.com/sns-what-kwanzaa-means-for-black-americans-88220-20171220-story.html

Holly Hartman, ”Kwanzaa: Honoring the values of ancient African cultures” at http://www.infoplease.com/spot/kwanzaa1.html#symbols

Maulana Karena, “The Official Kwanzaa Website” http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/index.shtml

Maria Stainer, "Obama's Kwanzaa greeting: Much to be thankful for," Washington Post, December 26, 2014, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/dec/26/obama-kwanzaa-much-be-thankful/  

Kendall Trammell, "A non-black person's guide to Kwanzaa," CNN, December 25, 2018,  https://www.cnn.com/ampstories/us/a-non-black-persons-guide-to-kwanzaa

Megan Trimble, "10 Things You Didn't Know About Kwanzaa," US News & World Report,  December 18, 2017, https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2017-12-18/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-kwanzaa

White House Statements & Releases, "Message on the Observance of Kwanzaa," December 22, 1997, https://web.archive.org/web/20171231103648/http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=53734

White House Statements & Releases, "Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Kwanzaa," December 26, 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/statement-president-donald-j-trump-kwanzaa/

For more on the history of Kwanzaa, please see

“History of Kwanzaa Timeline”

Keith A. Mayes, Kwanzaa: Black power and the making of the African-American holiday traditionTaylor and Francis: 2009. Available as an eBook at http://books.google.com/books?id=Vhgk72OGBRYC&dq=Decline+of+Kwanzaa&source=gbs_navlinks_s

For some of the controversy still surrounding Kwanzaa, please see

Irene Moore, “Should Kwanzaa Stay In Black Neighborhoods?” December 30, 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/irene-monroe/should-kwanzaa-stay-in-bl_b_802601.html

Trymaine Lee, “Kwanzaa 2011: A Celebration Of Community For Some, A Conundrum For Others,” December 25, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/22/kwanzaa_n_1165674.html

Media Matters for America, “On FOX, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson and Mike Gallagher attacked Kwanzaa,” December 23, 2004, http://mediamatters.org/research/200412230012

On the decline of Kwanzaa, please see

Danielle Belton, “Kwanzaa: It Was Popular?” http://blacksnob.com/snob_blog/2009/12/22/kwanzaa-it-was-popular.html

Kerris Guinn, "What Has Happened to Our Holiday-Kwanzaa?" Chicago Defender, December 23, 2017, https://chicagodefender.com/2017/12/23/what-has-happened-to-our-holiday-kwanzaa/

“Is the Celebration of Kwanzaa on the Decline?” Black News for Black People blog, December 18, 2009, http://blacknews5.wordpress.com/2009/12/18/is-the-celebration-of-kwanzaa-on-the-decline/

Boyce Watkins, “Kwanzaa Popularity Falling? Some Say That It Is,” December 18, 2009, http://blogs.blackvoices.com/2009/12/18/kwanzaa-popularity-falling-some-say-that-it-is/

Joshua R. Weaver, “Who Actually Celebrates Kwanzaa?” December 16, 2011. http://www.theroot.com/views/who-celebrates-kwanzaa-holiday-statistics?page=0,1

White House Statements & Releases, Presidential Statement on Kwanzaa, 2020, December 26, 2020, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/presidential-message-kwanzaa-2020/

For Illustrations, please see

Opening Kwanzaa table, Kaurenga photo and Organization Us logo all from the Official Kwanzaa website:  http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/index.shtml


Photo of Barack Obama: http://www.msnbc.com/politicsnation/white-house-releases-new-official-portrait

Photo of Donald Trump: https://www.whitehouse.gov/people/donald-j-trump/

1 comment:

  1. An insightful blog. Helpful for my Kwanzaa research.Best wishes for your future posts.