🤷🏾‍♀️How Do I Start Celebrating Kwanzaa???

Our family only incorporated Kwanzaa into our winter holiday celebrations several years ago, but I still recall how intimidating it seemed not knowing where to begin. I often have people who ask me about how to get started celebrating Kwanzaa. Sometimes we have been fortunate to live close enough to invite them over to celebrate one of the days with us. Other times, I just offer ideas that worked for us. I answered one of those inquiries via email yesterday and thought it would be helpful to share my response with others who may find Kwanzaa celebrations to be foreign territory to them. I am sharing a portion of the email below and my response:
Greetings Dr. Doula,
My family and I are looking to purchase decorations for Kwanzaa and overall things to have and what to teach our children about. No one here in [my area] has been of much help and I was wondering if you could assist me or point me in the right direction. (:

I hope you are already enjoying your holiday season. It’s so exciting to hear that you are celebrating Kwanzaa with your family this year. What we did when we first started was use Google and youtube to learn about the basics and what’s used and to find out about events in our area, but here are some other more specific suggestions to help you get started:
  • A1F6928E-B166-4B01-88D6-9D3B2C562E5EHere is a link with some basic details (cheat sheet) that you can follow while still being creative with how you choose to celebrate:   https://www.google.com/amp/s/m.wikihow.com/Celebrate-Kwanzaa%3famp=1 
  • Also, here is the official site by the founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga:   http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/index.shtml. There is a lot of info there and he offers a Kwanzaa Greeting message each year.
  • Google “kwanzaa + your city (or the closest major city) + 2018″ to see what community Kwanzaa events may be happening near you this year. We have spent a lot of time with people in the community at events like these and it really helped us to learn, meet other like-minded people, and understand the importance of umoja (unity) in the celebration and the spirit of the festivities and the days. It’s a great time to support Black businesses in the spirit of ujamaa (cooperative economics). If there are African stores in your area, they may sell some items and decorations that will be useful. Some people make their own ornaments/crafts for the table.
  • During our time of reflection on each daily principle, we have always made time for each person, even our little ones, to have time to talk about each principle. It has helped us to bond even closer as a family as we consider how our lives serve nia (purpose) and actively practice kujichagulia (self-determination) to build imani (faith) in the Creator for our futures. Every year our celebration evolves and changes to fit our family and we continue to determine for ourselves who we will become and how we will impact the world.
  • If you have little ones, think of creative ways for them to participate. Incorporate activities that you know they will enjoy doing… unleash kuumba (creativity) and don’t be afraid to BE CREATIVE with your celebration.
  • Regarding the zawadi (gifts), people think about this in different ways. They are generally intended to be educational or handcrafted items, not consumeristic like what is often expected at Christmas, although some do combine the gift giving with Christmas. With my sons, we always aimed at giving them meaningful gifts, things that we knew they would appreciate and be able to learn from/through/with.
  • Also, we take our sons out to African stores and restaurants and ask the owners about their countries of origins, why they wanted to come to the U.S., and what they think about African Americans and who we are to them. Needless to say, we have had some very interesting conversations that helped our sons see our connection to the continent more clearly and the need for ujima (collective work and responsibility) with people of African descent around the world – on the continent and throughout the diaspora – as the descendants of Africa continue to rise.
  • ALSO, PURCHASE A DOWNLOAD THIS CD RIGHT AWAY: “SEVEN PRINCIPLES” by Chavunduka and Steve CobbThe music is amazing. I have had the privilege of watching this awesome couple perform this music live before a couple of times and it was WONDERFUL! They have songs about each principle for each day and what it represents, and have been helping people of African descent build a legacy through these songs for more than 20 years. Here is portion of one of my favorites (the theme song) from when I attended a live event a few years ago:

We do certain unique things based on certain family preferences. For example, we light our candles in reverse. We have an “Imani” in our home and as he was getting older and taller (before he reached 6’5″) he identified with the black candle in the middle. Our children felt that our Imani represented the black candle and they didn’t want to see it be the shortest by the end of the week when to them it symbolized the strength of Black people amidst the struggle. So my husband and I let them decide how we would light the candles in our home, even though they understand that when we go out into the community that everyone else will do it a different way. It works well for our family. 😊

If you remember nothing else, remember that you and your family make Kwanzaa special and not the other way around. Allow it to be meaningful to your family and don’t focus too much on perfecting actions as if they are strict rituals. The African continent is the home to hundreds of different people groups with diverse cultures, languages and traditions. Don’t be afraid to let your family’s uniqueness shine through in your celebration. Allow it to nurture your family and ground you all for the new year.

I hope the information in this email will be helpful for you. I would love to know how everything works out for your family this year. 


Wait… What connection between South Africa and Africans of the Diaspora…?!

With all of the conversation surrounding the relationship between Diasporic Africans and Continental Africans, I think it is the perfect time to share a unique connection between Africans of the Diaspora and Black South Africans that I had never heard before.

Khwezi with Alfred and Nosipho in February 2015 

I first met Alfred in 2015 during my first visit to Clermont, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. I had spent the entire day before watching his wife Nosipho cook meal after meal (she was the umpheki) as the rest of us chopped and chopped and chopped the different vegetables for each meal. I honestly had never seen cooking pots so big, but they were necessary to accommodate the steady stream of people who were coming during umsebenzi In preparation for the funeral and celebration of the life of the loved one that would occur over the next few days.


I have not talked much about that experience… perhaps I will some day. It was there in Clermont that I noticed the many similarities to what I had experienced during the summers at my grandparents house in rural Alabama throughout my childhood. So many things felt familiar… Perhaps I will share more about that some time.

Anyway, I first met and had an opportunity to speak with Alfred after the funeral. I was excited to see both Alfred and Nosipho last month during our traditional Zulu wedding celebration. After all of the greetings and introduction to my husband, he told me that he had something he wanted to say to African Americans. I was curious about what he would say. And once I heard his message, I promised I would share it.

“My name is Afred Mandlakayise Ziqubu. I’m from Umlazi. Umlazi is South of Durban. This… Clermont being west of Durban. I want to say something about YOU coming here to South Africa to have the ceremony… the wedding ceremony. People don’t know what African Americans are. Most of African Americans went to America as slaves, our forefathers, but the difference between South Africa, KZN which is KwaZulu-Natal, the difference is that people were sent by King Shaka to go and learn the wisdom of Americans in America. Which makes you, when you are coming here, you are coming to your home… your real home… this is your roots, so YOU ARE WELCOMED.”

Oh… and I will add this for good measure. African peoples have always honored greatly mouth-to-ear, spoken history. All (yes, I said ALL) of those who retain a connection to their family lineage know their family name(s) for many previous generations. (I have taught 13 year olds who knew.) This knowledge is most likely not given to them in a book or on a piece of paper, but it is written on their hearts through the sharing of oral histories. It is from that place and sense of knowing that this message is shared.

Let the unpacking begin…