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Why Kwanzaa is not 'Black Christmas'

BURNING BRIGHT: An observer of Kwanzaa lights candles during the celebration

WITH THE festive season upon us, most will be familiar with the tradition of trees, turkey and all the trimmings. But for a minority, the season is characterised by the desire to celebrate their African identity in the form of Kwanzaa. As two UK-based organisations prepare to host hundreds of Black Britons, the event organisers took the time to share with The Voice why they are committed to raising the profile of the celebration.

“Perhaps the biggest misconception is that Kwanzaa is a ‘Black Christmas’,” explained Brother Leader Mbandaka, spiritual leader of the Alkebu-Lan Revivalist Movement.

“I think because it happens at a similar time of the year and because many do not have a frame of reference for an Afrikan-centred cultural celebration that is independent of European cultural influences, they assume Kwanzaa has something to do with Christmas. However, Kwanzaa is really about Afrikans defining our selves independently.”

The east London based group is preparing for a comeback celebration with a grand launch in Brixton on Boxing Day (December 26).

The tradition, which began in the United States, is said to have levelled off in popularity amongst African Americans and hasn’t struck a chord with Britain’s black communities either.

“African Caribbeans in Britain have not embraced Kwanzaa because of the negative propaganda that is prominent in people’s opinion of Kwanzaa,” said Bevis Gooden, of the African Heritage Network of Luton, who is also preparing for its annual celebration.

“When information is provided to correct the negative assumptions with encouragement in order to critically analyse all activities, this provides people with the tools to appreciate the principles of Kwanzaa.”


Both leaders are in agreement that black communities would benefit from embracing the traditions of Kwanzaa.

Mbandaka added: “I would love to see every Afrikan in the UK celebrate Kwanzaa. Like Indians celebrate Diwali, Jews celebrate Hanukkah and Muslims celebrate Ramadan, Kwanzaa is for all Afrikan people. Kwanzaa is therefore as relevant to the historical and cultural heritage of Afrikan people and thus as vital to reinforcing our positive collective identity and self-esteem as the aforementioned celebrations of the said peoples.”



Kwanzaa is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a feast and gift-giving. It has seven core principles known as the Nguzo Saba.
Umoja – Unity
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
Kujichagulia – Self-determination
To define our selves, name our selves, create for our selves and speak for our selves.
Ujima – Collective work and responsibility
To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers and sisters problems our problems and to solve them together
Ujamaa – Cooperative economics
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other business and to profit from them together
Nia – Purpose
To make our collective vocation the building and developing of community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness
Kuumba – Creativity
To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Imani – Faith
To believe with all our hearts in our people, parents, teachers, leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

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