As 2010 draws to an end, for many it’s a time to reflect on the year, take stock and look forward to ways to improve life in the next. That’s one of the basics of Kwanzaa, a secular holiday established in 1966 that celebrates African-American culture. “It’s a wonderful opportunity as we move toward a new year to recenter our thoughts on the principles that are the key foundation of the Kwanzaa celebration,” said resident Janice Lucas.
Though it’s a relatively new holiday, its roots are based on ancient African traditions of first-fruit harvest celebrations and the modern black freedom movement, according to the holiday’s founder, Maulana Karenga.
Panama City sees few public celebrations of the holiday, but some families and churches mark the weeklong celebration that begins the day after Christmas in private ceremonies where they celebrate family, community and culture, Lucas said.
Every night a candle is lit, each representing one of seven principles of the holiday: unity, purpose, creativity, faith, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, and cooperative economics. For Lucas, the celebration is about “bringing together some values I believe in with a cultural focus and (it) allows me at the end of the year to reflect and also look forward.”
At the African-American Cultural Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, curator Roberta Moore hopes to establish next year a community celebration to teach school-age children about the holiday. This year there wasn’t widespread interest, something Lucas attributes to children being out of school on winter break.
It’s the focus on self-determination and creativity that she said is most important for the students to learn.
Still, even without a formal class, there are plenty of materials to learn about the holiday. There’s a table with a display about the holiday, including a mat that is symbolic of the tradition on which the history and culture is built, a unity cup, gifts, and a flag of black, red and green to represent people, struggle and future, respectively.
Like the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo is celebrated by people of different cultures, Lucas said Kwanzaa is not just a holiday for African-Americans. “Kwanzaa is a celebration of the principles that make it possible to continue in freedom,” she said.
Traditional celebrations include reading, taking time to think, discussions and sharing information about culture with children. For example, part of this year’s celebration included watching a documentary about the making of the Broadway show “The Color Purple.”The cultural center is open 2-6 p.m. Monday through Friday except holidays.