Celebrating the First Fruits

Christopher Myers

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Myers of 66th Air Base Wing demonstrates a Kwanzaa ritual where she lights one of the candles arranged in the holder called a Kinara.

Kwanzaa, or "First Fruits of the Harvest," is an African-American and Pan-Africian holiday. The founder and creator, Ron Karenga, calls Kwanzaa "the African-American branch of 'first fruits' celebrations of classical African culture," He says that the feast is designed to honor the values and the restoration of the African community through the Nguzo Saba or seven principles.

The name Kwanzaa blends two Swahili words into one: Kwanza, which means first, and kuzaa, which means to give birth. Kwanzaa celebrates and strengthens community, family and culture over a period of seven days.

On each of these days, one of Kwanzaa's seven principles is recalled. This year Kwanzaa begins on Sunday, Dec. 26 with a celebration of unity. On Monday participants commemorate self-determination; on Tuesday they turn to collective work and responsibility. On Wednesday, Dec. 29 they'll observe cooperative economics; the following day they'll focus on purpose. On New Year's Eve creativity is remembered. Kwanzaa ends on New Year's Day with a celebration of faith.

Kwanzaa candles are one of the festival's most important icons; many consider them the official symbol of the holiday. They are held in a candleholder called the kinara. The seven candles are lit in a specific sequence each night of the seven-day holiday. By lighting the seven candles, Kwanzaa participants remember the principles of the holiday and take time to observe their special meaning.

Together the candles are called the Mishumaa Saba, Swahili for seven candles. They represent the sun's power. The Kinara and Mishumaa Kaba are two of the seven symbols of Kwanzaa; the others are crops, the mat, ears of corn, gifts and the unity cup.

The Kinara holds one black candle, three red candles and three green candle with the black in the middle, the red to the left and the green to the right. The black candle represents the people; the red, the struggles; and the green, hope for the future.

On the first night of Kwanzaa, Dec. 26, the black candle is lit at a specific point in the evening's celebration. It is normally done after drumming or music and a reading.

On the second night, the candle on the far left is lit and it represents self-determination. After lighting the red candle, the black candle is lit.

Each night the new candle is lit and is followed by the lighting of the previously lit candles to reaffirm the previous lessons.

The order of the candle lighting is significant. By lighting the black candle first, those who celebrate Kwanzaa are representing that their people come first, then the struggle (the red candles) and then the hope that comes from the struggle (the green candles).


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