Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are some of the winter holidays celebrated around the world — and right here in Charm City. While culture often forms the foundation of these celebrations, families embrace the holidays differently. Some combine and weave holiday traditions together, creating their own interpretations of the season. Others are inspired by historical customs but add their own modern flare. And of course, there are some that are traditionalists when it comes to holidays.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing how local families celebrate the winter holiday and this week we’re looking at Kwanzaa. The common thread tying all of these celebrations together? Kids — no matter what holiday they celebrate — love the magic of spending time together as a family.

To read more, check our our 2018 Holiday Guide.

Modern Family Holiday Celebrations - Kwanzaa

Modern Family Holiday Celebrations: Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a newer holiday, as it was first celebrated in 1966. Kwanzaa honors African heritage in African-American culture and is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a feast and gift-giving. Each day of the seven day celebration is dedicated to one of the seven core principles: Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith).

Isa Olufemi founded the Poet Pride Run Club (PPRC) at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. The Run Club aims to combine physical fitness with school pride, personal growth, and college preparation. On the first day of Kwanzaa, the club holds an 5K Umoja (Unity) Run and Celebration. The run is held in collaboration with Black Running Organization (another organization Olufemi founded). In addition to running the 5K, the run includes a candle lighting ceremony and cooperative activities that show participants that there is strength in unity.

“The PPRC is about the students’ holistic education,” says Olufemi in an Open Society Institute article. “It’s about constant development, so let’s grow!”

Jessica Hebron, known to kids around Baltimore as Culture Queen, has been celebrating Kwanzaa for more than 20 years — and has fond memories of celebrating as a child.

“The Purpose of Kwanzaa is to be an African-American holiday that celebrates family, community, and culture.” said Jessica, who added that the seven principles were created by Kwanzaa founder Dr. Maulana Karenga, and are based on a variety of ancient African beliefs and traditions. ”[The philosophy] allows people to take a look at what they are doing in their life and with their family and gain insight into how to culturally better themselves throughout the entire year.”

Personally, Jessica likes to celebrate with lots of original Kwanzaa music, dancing, singing, crafts, and stories that she’s created. She really enjoys setting up the Kwanzaa table with the traditional symbols gifted to her from her family and ancestors.

Through her business Culture Kingdom Kids, LLC, Jessica tries to share fun and easy ways that African American children can participate in Kwanzaa. For example, the second day of Kwanzaa celebrates Kujichagulia or self-determination. On this day, Jessica likes to teach children about the importance of defining ourselves, naming ourselves, creating for ourselves and speaking for ourselves.  She gained her West African name through a rite of passage ceremony when she was married, so she likes to have kids to select empowering African names for themselves; and to teach them the importance of the meaning behind a name. She’s even created a self-determination themed children’s music album entitled, “I Like The Me I See!” to reinforce the principle.

Another example? Day six observes the principle of Kuumba, or creativity. She likes to create cool Kwanzaa crafts such as making Kujichagulia Superheroes, edible Kwanzaa art and even a Kwanzaa kinara (candleholder) made entirely out of legos.

On December 29th, you’ll find Jessica at The Reginald F. Lewis Museum at their Kwanzaa Celebration. It’s truly a special occasion for Jessica, who has a new Culture Queen gown and headdress commissioned each year that is debuted at the museum’s annual Kwanzaa event.