The flame from Chanukah’s first candle flickers, the star atop a Christmas tree sheds its light elegantly, and the candles of Kawanzaa’s kinara speak of hardship and of hope.
It’s the light that seems to unite these three celebrations that have all come together in this 2016 – Chanukah beginning on Christmas eve, and Kawanzaa’s celebration beginning on Monday (Dec. 26).
It is for some, maybe for most, flames that kindle a sense of hope, of expectation in such an uncertain time. Freedom, spirituality, unity, hope, responsibility are among the universal themes of three very distinct celebrations.
It’s about images of families, mostly children, of triumph, and, of those who for whatever reason are alone on these holidays, alone, and yet, very much a part of the fabric of that which we call community.
The messages and symbols of these three events far transcend the people who celebrate them.
Beyond the religious explanations, Christmas is for many a time of reflection, Chanukah, a celebration of freedom, and Kwanzaa embracing seven important disciplines from unity to responsibility and community.
The youngest of these celebrations is Kawanzaa, just 50 years since it was founded by Dr. Maulana Karenga as “a celebration of family, community, and culture with each providing a context and commitment of common ground, cooperative practice, and shared good.”
Kwanzaa, as articulated by Dr. Karenga, is one that can be universally shared. And, it is the only one of the three that is not a religious holiday, but rather a cultural holiday.
For most, the least understood of the celebrations is Kwanzaa. It brings a message of hope to African people worldwide.
It revolves around seven principles, Nguza Saba: unity, Umoja; self-determination (Kujichagulia); collective work and responsibility (Ujima); cooperative economics (Ujamaa); purpose (Nia); creativity (Kuumba); and faith (Imani).
These seven principles can easily be shared by anyone, no matter what race or ethnicity.
Perhaps the overriding message of this time of year – or any time of year – doesn’t come from any religious observance, or cultural celebration, but from the great essayist and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who reminds us so eloquently our responsibility is “to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition.”
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