Every year from December 26th to January 1st, African Americans across the nation and around the world gather together to celebrate Kwanzaa. First celebrated in 1966, it has since become an enduring symbol of African culture, togetherness and pride.
What is Kwanzaa?
During the height of the Civil Rights movements and the reawakening of African American consciousness within American society, Maulana Karenga sought to create a festival that African Americans in particular could use to celebrate their heritage and history.
Initially conceived as an alternative to more Eurocentric celebrations, it has since come to be practiced alongside Christmas, Hannukah, Yule, and other winter festivals. Kwanzaa itself is a Swahili word meaning “first fruits” and is inspired by Zulu harvest traditions. It is decidedly pan-African in character, celebrating and marking peoples and cultures from across the African continent and the African diaspora.
Observers dress in traditional African costume, read literature and poetry by Black poets and writers, listen to or recreate African music, and lighting special kinara candles. There is usually also feasting and exchanging of gifts.
Celebrating Kwanzaa in 2020
Due to the corona virus pandemic, events for Kwanzaa this year have been largely scaled back. In light of the current circumstances it is not recommended that people travel widely for celebrations, but instead observe Kwanzaa and other seasonal holidays from home with their households.
Likewise, because of the current pandemic event it is hard to track down specific events that may or may not be held this year. With all that is going on, the schedule may change too often to reliably suggest anything to keep in your calendars.
That said, on years where there are not viruses floating around, there are numerous events that help mark and celebrate the festival.
Most cultural and heritage centres will be hosting workshops and public commemorations for the local community to enjoy, featuring demonstrations of African dance and music, talks on prominent and underrepresented figures in African American history, and public kinara candle lighting ceremonies.
For example, in Manhattan, the American Museum of Natural History typically hosts a one-night fete in which African culture, arts and history are demonstrated and practised. Meanwhile, in Triangle Township, NC, numerous events, fairs and workshops are held at various cultural and community centres to mark the occasion, many of which are free for families.
It is hard to say whether these events will still go ahead as the year progresses. But keep careful watch for any news related to events in your local neighbourhood.
As always, should you and your family decide to celebrate Kwanzaa publicly with your community, be sure to do so responsibly. Wear a mask, social distance, and avoid large crowds.
Where to Celebrate
Most major cities will observe Kwanzaa, especially those with a large African American community within it.
Whether planning for this year or the next, the following cities in particular are always worth visiting to mark the festival, as they offer the best venues, the best surroundings, and the best travel opportunities.
- New York – The City That Never Sleeps hosts numerous events during Kwanzaa, including performances at the Apollo Theatre and workshops in museums and community centres in every borough.
- Atlanta – A major centre of the Civil Rights movement in the 60s, Atlanta continues to have a large and vibrant African American community to this day. Subsequently, it is always a major hub of activity each Kwanzaa.
- San Francisco – The Golden Gate Bridge isn’t the only reason to visit San Francisco. Each Kwanzaa the city celebrates its diverse heritage with numerous displays, events and shows to showcase the contribution of Black Americans to its history and society.
- Philadelphia – As the birthplace of American freedom, it should be no surprise that Philadelphia is also a popular city to visit for Kanzaa festivals. Offering historical and cultural sites alike, no visit to Philadelphia will be lacking.
- Chicago – Although more commonly associated with St Patrick’s Day, Chicago Kwanzaa celebrations are nothing to be missed either. A vibrant Midwestern city, it can make the perfect destination for a festive getaway.
There is no better reason to celebrate the nation’s rich and diverse heritage than by travelling to see more of it. Whether with the family, solo or with a partner, get the most out of Kwanza with a city break and join the celebrations.