The Beck Cultural Exchange Center is leading Knoxville’s celebration of Kwanzaa, a seven-day cultural reaffirmation for African Americans. It was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, based on traditions of East Africa.
The name Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili word kwanza, meaning “first,” as in the phrase matunda ya kwanza (first fruits), according to the Beck Center’s newsletter.
The second “a” distinguishes the African American from the African kwanza. An apocryphal tale is told that during one of the early Kwanzaa celebrations, a children’s pageant was held, with each child holding up a card with the letters of the word kwanza, which at the time was spelled with one “a.” One child was left, letterless and weeping, at the end of the row. A second “a” was quickly produced, the day was saved, and the holiday was forever after known as Kwanzaa.
A time of fasting, of feasting and self-examination is held annually from December 26 to January 1. The celebration is guided by the Nguzo Saba or Seven Principles. Each day of the week-long festival is devoted to the celebration of one of these building blocks of self-awareness.
A key tradition during Kwanzaa is the daily lighting of the candles in the Kinara or candleholder. Seven candles represent the Seven Principles. Black, red and green candles are used. The black candle symbolizes the people themselves, the three red candles are for the struggle or bloodshed in the past, and the three green candles represent earth or the abundance of the possibilities the future holds.
If you want to know more about this or the many other features of the Beck Center, sign up for its monthly newsletter here. The Rev. Renee Kesler is the executive director.
Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today Inc.