Kwanzaa began in southern California in 1966, the creation of
Ron McKinley Everett (aka Dr. Maulana Karenga). Originally intended to be a
black nationalist substitute for Christmas, today Kwanzaa is promoted as being
a cultural celebration for people of African descent (though it is still
observed to a large degree by black people who are not Christians and who
choose not to celebrate Christmas).
Kwanzaa is based on seven principles Everett felt were
particularly important for the black community and which he felt represented
African values. He called these "Nguzo Saba (the Seven Principles)"
and chose Swahili words to name them: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia
(Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa
(Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani
Each day of the Kwanzaa's seven days (Dec. 26 - Jan 1) is
dedicated to one of those principles, in the order given. The Kwanzaa ceremony
Everett specifies requires 1) setting up a dedicated place in the home for the
ceremony, 2) placing in the dedicated spot a specified set of artifacts and 3)
going through a prescribed ritual ceremony each day.
Kwanzaa is being promoted widely as being a way for black
people to reconnect with our African roots. Many Christians of African descent
have questions about Kwanzaa, and some are exploring or even celebrating
Kwanzaa. Some schools are promoting it to schoolchildren and even some
churches here and there are incorporating Kwanzaa into worship services.
Many people who celebrate Kwanzaa do so to identify with
African culture, since Kwanzaa uses Swahili words to name its principles,
instructs its practitioners to focus on African heritage and ancestry. Others
do so to focus on African-American culture.
For Christians, however, although the desire to identify with
African culture is understandable, Kwanzaa is neither African nor traditional
African-American. Moreover, there are key issues with Kwanzaa that are not
compatible with scripture.
Firstly, the Bible is the best source for learning any kinds
of principles and traditions, including African traditions. Africa, its people
and cultures have a major presence in the scriptures, in early church history,
and in the shaping of core Christian thought, theology and tradition.
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life
14:6) -- for
all people. Africans throughout the Motherland recognize this fact, too, and
have been turning to Jesus Christ by the millions for the past century (less
than 10% of Africans practice any more the ancient religions Kwanzaa focuses
on, and that number is shrinking every day).
Secondly, the Bible and the black church are the foundation of
black culture and tradition in North America. It is Christianity that brought
us through slavery and Jim Crow segregation, provided the foundation for our
near-superhuman endurance and monumental achievements. Kwanzaa ritual
specifically excludes any mention or recognition of the Bible, Christianity or
the African or African-American church (Everett says introducing them into the
ceremonies violates his Kawaida principle named Kujichagulia
Lastly and most importantly, Kwanzaa is in reality a
non-Christian religious ceremony. It is expressly promoted as not being
religious but its Seven Principles are taken from directly Everett's personal
religious philosophy, which he calls Kawaida (based on Ma'at, an ancient
Egyptian mystic religion that Everett, the son of a Baptist minister, left the
church to adopt as a young man). Also, its key rituals and artifacts are
modeled after non-Christian religious practices and ceremonies. Scripture does
not allow the Christian to participate in such:
"Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by
following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou
inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods?
even so will I do likewise." (Deut
Christians of African descent deeply appreciate a need to
learn about and celebrate African history, tradition and ancestry. European
Christians have always been able to do that, regularly celebrating St.
Patrick's Day, Shakespeare Festivals, Oktoberfest and other European cultural
festivals and activities. Cinco de Mayo is a joyous recent addition from
Mexican tradition. Having African-based cultural events as well would be
However -- especially during Christmas season -- for
Bible-believing Christians of African descent any such tradition should focus
on and devote itself solely to Jesus Christ, His birth, His Bible and His
church. Our exclusive focus on Jesus' birth should not end on December 25. It
should continue throughout the holiday season. We should strive to make it the
most glorious of all holidays throughout the holiday season, so glorious it
attracts others to Christ out of their old ways just as the Gospel has done
all over the world, including Africa.
During Christmas season we should place special focus on
highlighting the African presence in the scriptures, which we as a people
already know so precious little about and need to understand much, much
Before -- and after -- Christmas Day we should educate
ourselves, our children and other Christians regarding the customs, traditions
and history of indigenous African Christianity and its churches -- both
ancient churches like the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox churches, and modern
independent African churches, church movements and issues.
If we truly believe that Jesus' grace is sufficient for all of
our needs (2 Cor
12:9) then let's treat His Birthday season that way. Let us
extend Christmas season with an African focus instead of adopting something
else. Black nativity scenes and African Christian celebrations and teaching
events will go a lot further to connect Christians to Africa than any
non-Christian ceremony created by a single man.
Let's treat the birth of Jesus as more special than ever before
and focus on His Word like never before. There is more than enough richness,
tradition, community, enough African and African-American community and values
in the Bible, in African and African-American church and early church to keep
us all busy for a lifetime -- with no exclusion of or conflict with
Christianity or the holy scriptures.
Robert Ash is co-pastor and youth minister of Euphrates
Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland, California.
Copyright © 2001-2011 by Robert Ash.
"A History of Christianity in Africa: From Antiquity to
the Present" by Elizabeth Isichei