Millions of African American’s and others of African descent around the world celebrate the holiday of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a celebration of “family, community and culture.” This holiday began in 1966 and provides those of the African culture to celebrate their heritage and culture regardless of religion or geographic location. It is a celebration of goodness and appreciation of what we have and how we achieved it, through our hard work and that of our family. This holiday is celebrated from December 26 – January 1.
To celebrate Kwanzaa each day of the holiday is dedicated to the seven principals that support the celebration of family, community and culture. These seven principals are:
Unity: This day stresses the important of family and the community.
Self-Determination. This day emphasizes the need for priorities in our interest and make decisions that we hope are best for our family and community.
Collective Work and Responsibility. This day emphasizes that we have obligations to the past, present and future and we have a role to play in the community, society and the world.
Cooperative Economic. This day emphasizes the importance of collective economic strength and encourages us to meet common needs through mutual support.
Purpose. This day stresses that we should set personal goals that benefit the community.
Creativity. This day stresses that our creativeness should be used in productive ways, and to build and maintain a strong community.
Faith. This day stresses that faith helps us in honoring tradition and creates the best in ourselves and helps us to want a better live for everyone. As in so many other holidays the lighting of a candle has special meaning. Seven candles are held in candle holder called a kinara. The kinara is placed on a straw mat and ears of corn are placed on the mat to symbolize each child in the family (or you can also do classroom) A fruit basket and unity cup are also on the straw mat. On each of the seven days a candle is lit. The candles and all decorations for Kwanzaa are traditional African colors of red, black and green.
To the uninitiated, Kwanzaa may seem a difficult concept to teach to children, but in our every growing and changing world not only may they encounter symbols of this holiday but there are many important attributes that our children can learn from. For these lessons try the following:
Circle time: Talk about African, show them where it is on the globe.
Story time: “K is for Kwanzaa,” by Juwanda Ford and Ken Wilson-Max; “Seven Days of Kwanzaa,” by Melrose Cooper; and “Jump at the Sun; It’s beginning to look like Kwanzaa,” by Rex Perry. Each one of the books provides wonderful easy to understand information about Kwanzaa and what it means as well as opportunities for letter recognition reinforcement (the letter K) and color reinforcement for the colors red, black and green; which also works well with the Christmas lesson plans which include the colors of red and green.
Art: Print out a free coloring page/poster and provide your child with red, green and black markers and crayons, if you are coloring the any of the harvest or bounty type pages give them the appropriate colors.
Kinara Puzzles: provide the children with cut outs of the seven branches, the base and each of the seven candles and flames. If you have older children assist them with cutting their own out. With these pieces have the children glue the pieces down creating their own idea of a kinara. Display them at home or school.
Grandparent’s photo book: Karamu is the feast day of Kwanzaa, on December 31. Family and our past are highly respected and appreciated during Kwanzaa. Take this opportunity to create a “book” with any of the following ideas.
Create a photo book with your children (this can be done in class or as a home school project). Provide them with pictures of their grandparents, glue sticks and age appropriate embellishments about their grandparents (include aunts, uncles, god parents, parents, whoever you may like). For example in our family “Papaw” lives for UT football. Use the colors orange and brown and football foam pieces to create a page about grandpa.
Create a family tree collage: Using a large piece of poster board help you children create a collage of family pictures complete with embellishments such as sayings, logo’s, interest, quotes or any other items that are special to your family.
In both cases, talk about why these things are important to your family and how any of the traditions exhibited in the photos got started.
Field trip: The Children’s Museum of Houston has a wonderful Kwanzaa exhibit. Visit your local museum’s webpage to find out what they may have on exhibit. You can also visit grandparents and present them with the photo book or collage. No family nearby – check with your church or other local groups and see if you can adopt a grandparent. Visit a retirement home and brighten an elderly person’s day. Listen to their stories and ask questions.
Snack: These recipes are easy to make and you can create them with your children. If you would like to create a Kwanzaa meal for your family visit the Food Network online and click Kwanzaa for some great family recipes. For snack time try: Peanut Butterballs , Build Me Up Peanut Butter Cup or Fried Plantains.
Imagination: Give the children lots of time to play in the family area with different age people and dolls. Allow them to explore the “family structure” that they create. It’s great fun with the older preschoolers to hear them say, “No, I want to be the …” If you can make sure that your play area includes dolls and people of different ethnicities it will help them become familiar with the ways that people look different.
Community: Service to the community is a very important part of the celebration of Kwanzaa. Help your children determine on a group project that could benefit someone or something in your community. Some suggestions are a canned/boxed food drive (in the classroom) or have children donate their “allowance” to be gathered together and donate to a special need in the community. In our house we are donating it to the Star of Hope Mission in Houston.
Cost of these plans: each book averages about $5.99, but you can also check them out of your local library. The snack costs for fried plantains is the least expensive project at about $2.99. Posterboard is 1.29 for a large sheet, and photobooks can be purchased at the dollar store. Embellishment costs depend on you,but many can be printed out from Microsoft Clipart. General supplies include crayons, markers and glue sticks.
You may not understand everything about every culture, but it’s important to teach our children that which we can about other people and their culture. The holidays are a wonderful time to give them a peek at the world around them.
Food for thought: we are all different; we all come from different places and backgrounds, cultures and traditions. But have you ever noticed exactly how many different cultures celebrate their holidays with the lighting of candles? I guess you could say that it doesn’t matter how different we all are, we all see a little bit of light in the world when we light those candles in celebration of whatever holiday we may enjoy.
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