published Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Kwanzaa celebrates culture and values

To mark Kwanzaa, candles are lit in a specific pattern, signifying the day of the celebration and the principle behind each day.
To mark Kwanzaa, candles are lit in a specific pattern, signifying the day of the celebration and the principle behind each day.

The Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" means "first fruits."

Kwanzaa, an African-American cultural holiday celebrated each year from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, traces its roots back to the first harvest celebrations of Africa.

The celebration of Kwanzaa, said Charlotte Williams, allows people to see "where we've come from and the mountains we're going to have to climb in order to make this world a better place."

Williams is organizing a Kwanzaa celebration at Eastdale Community Methodist Church on Sunday, Jan. 1.

On Wednesday, the Bessie Smith Cultural Center will host a showing of "The Black Candle."

The documentary, narrated by Maya Angelou, is named for the central candle on a candelabra of seven. There are three green, three red and one black. Each represents one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

The seven principles are: umoja (unity); kujichagulia (self-determination); ujima (collective work and responsibility); ujamaa (cooperative economics); nia (purpose); kuumba (creativity); and imani (faith). The principle of umoja, unity, is represented by the black candle.

" 'The Black Candle' talks about the history of Kwanzaa as well as Kwanzaa celebrations all over the world," said Carmen Davis, spokeswoman for the Bessie. "It gives you a worldview of how Kwanzaa is celebrated."

A display for the holiday will be set up as well, Davis said.

The daughter of pastor Stanley R. Williams, Charlotte Williams has been the driving force behind Eastdale's celebration for eight years, she said.

"[Kwanzaa] allows us as a community to reflect on the year and how we have progressed," she said. "It's to give thanks to those in the community who God has used in order to help us."

This year, Eastdale will honor Thomas and Elaine McConnell, a Chattanooga couple who have been married more than 50 years.

"They have gone through the trials and tribulations of marriage," Williams said, "through sickness, through death of loved ones."

The church will also celebrate caretakers as a way of honoring the work of those who dedicate their lives to serving others.

Cheryl Norris Sanders, a member of Eastdale Church, is helping to organize a more secular Kwanzaa celebration that will take place Saturday, Dec. 31, on M.L. King Boulevard.

"It is a cultural celebration to extend positive identification and positive images and aspiration to the African-American community," Sanders said.

The Saturday celebration allows craftspeople and artisans to display and sell their wares.

"Kwanzaa is really about celebrating family," Davis said, "so there are different activities each day to help you come together as a family."

The activities might include cooking a meal, poetry readings or the making of handmade crafts, she said.

"It's not a religious-based holiday. It's not trying to take away from any other holiday," Davis said. She also noted that while Kwanzaa is historically a celebration of black history and culture, "it's something anybody can celebrate," she said, "because it really celebrates family and community, so it's not really limited to just African-Americans."

In that spirit, Sanders said she encourages people of all faiths to attend Saturday's celebration to learn more about Kwanzaa.

There is an important intergenerational apsect to Kwanzaa and its celebrations.

At Eastdale, praise music will be performed by a band of young men of the church.

"In the midst of so much violence that is going on in our community, this is going to showcase some [young people] who are actually doing the right thing," she said.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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