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Kwanzaa celebration begins today

Kwanzaa?

What's za?

Mention the word Kwanzaa and most people will be puzzled.

Few people in the Pike County area know about Kwanzaa and even fewer celebrate it, said Troy businessman Willie Scott.

"Kwanzaa was created in 1966 as a celebration of culture, community and family and to pay tribute to the rich cultural roots of Americans of African ancestry," Scott said.

Kwanzaa is based on African agricultural celebrations and the collective principles which contribute to the unity and development of the African community, Scott said.

The celebration is derived from a Swahili phrase meaning "first fruits."

Kwanzaa is celebrated Dec. 26 through Jan. 1 and culminates with a feast on Dec. 31.

During the days preceding the feast, the menu often includes sweet potatoes, pineapple, fruit beverages and other foods that are native to lands where African people have lived.

The focus of Kwanzaa is to introduce and reinforce the basic African values of building and supporting family, community and culture.

Kwanzaa also serves as a communal celebration to reaffirm and reinforce bonds between African people, strengthen community and reaffirm common identity, purpose and direction in individuals and as a world community.

"There are Seven Principles of Kwanzaa - unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith," Scott said. "Seven candles represent the Seven Principles and one candle is lit each night of Kwanzaa. There are three red candles, representing the blood of the people; three green candles that represent the land and one black candle that represents the people."

Scott said the family comes together each night, at a designated time, for the lighting of the candle and a shared meal.

"Fruit is always a part of the meal, but not the complete meal or even the main dish," Scott said. "But, fruit is used on the table where the kanori is placed. The kanori holds the seven candles that represent the Seven Principles. The display almost always includes a fertility doll that is symbolic of the fertility of the people and the land."

The unity cup is also a part of the Kwanzaa celebration.

"Each night each member of the family drinks from the cup as a show of oneness," Scott said. "Actually, Kwanzaa is more like Thanksgiving than Christmas, except gifts are exchanged. Some families exchange gifts on each night of Kwanzaa and others exchange gifts only on Dec. 31."

The gifts exchanged on Kwanzaa must be handmade and should be inexpensive but meaningful.

"The wish for the celebration is that Kwanzaa may bring each family together in faith and strength," Scott said. "Kwanzaa is a popular celebration in urban areas and is attracting more interest in other areas. I believe as more people become familiar with Kwanzaa and what it represents for Americans of African ancestry, it will become popular all across the country and in all areas."