Published : Saturday, December 28, 2019 | 6:02 AM
Over 180 local residents gathered Friday morning for Pasadena’s Kwanzaa event honoring African culture and heritage at the La Pintoresca Branch Library. The event has grown in popularity over the past several years.
Pasadena’s celebration, themed “Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture,” featured story-telling and music, with refreshments provided by Alumnae Delta Sigma Theta sorority members.
The event was held on the second day of the seven-day Kwanzaa festival.
“We had a packed house and we had some awesome participants,” said Esther Sherrod Watkins, Kwanzaa chair at the sorority’s Pasadena Alumnae Delta Sigma Theta Chapter. “I think we really celebrated the culture, family and community.”
Kwanzaa became part of American culture in 1966 when Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Africana studies at California State University, Long Beach, conceived this festival as a means to bring African-Americans together as a community and help them reconnect with their African roots and heritage.
Since then, the Kwanzaa festival has spread among African-American communities throughout the U.S., celebrating family, community, culture, and heritage.
The festival is modeled after the first harvest celebrations in Africa. The name comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means the “first fruits” of the harvest.
“The main thing is we have to remember the struggle that people went through to get us where we are,” Watkins said. “And secondly, we must remember that it is our job to continue this and to support our community, and give back. That’s one of the main themes – we must learn to give back to the community.”
During the annual festival, African-Americans are also reminded of the seven principles – the “Nguzu Saba” – of Kwanzaa. Each day of the festival emphasizes a new principle. The principles include “Umoja” or unity, Kujichagulia or self-determination, “Ujima” or collective work and responsibility, “Ujamaa” or cooperative economics, which pertains to building and maintaining businesses; “Nia” or purpose, “Kuumba’ or creativity, and “Imani” or faith.
“These are the values we come together to celebrate for seven days,” Watkins said. “And we want to make this a part of our everyday lives.”
The nationwide Kwanzaa celebration has the theme “Living Kwanzaa and the Seven Principles: An All-Seasons Celebration and Practice of the Good.”
“Implicit in the theme is the question of how we make Kwanzaa more than an annual celebration, a seasonal and episodic engagement with our culture and the beautiful, uplifting and liberating sense of ourselves it gives us,” Kwanzaa creator Karenga wrote in his annual founder’s message. “But embedded in the theme is the answer – it is by holding fast to the spirit and principles of Kwanzaa in the way we live our lives, do our work and wage our struggles to bring forth the best of ourselves and to bring and sustain good in the world.”
During the week, a candelabrum called a Kinara is lit, and ears of corn representing each child in the family are placed on a traditional straw mat. African foods such as millet, spiced pepper balls and rice are often served. Some people fast during the holiday, and a feast is often held on its final night.
A flag with three bars – red for the struggle for freedom, black for unity, and green for the future – is sometimes displayed during the holiday.
During Friday’s celebration, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Kathryn Barger tweeted that Kwanzaa “reminds us about the importance of unity, determination, creativity and generosity.”