Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chair of African Studies at California State University, Long Beach. Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 to January 1. Karenga’s original concept was to provide African-Americans with a time to focus on the cultural heritage and values of Africa and to provide an alternative to Christmas. Karenga drew from a number of different African harvest festivals, Black Nationalist ideology, and other cultural influences to create the seven “Nguzo Saba,” or principles of African heritage. Each of these principles is represented by a physical symbol, one for each day of Kwanzaa.
Once the holiday began gaining traction among a wider African-American audience, Karenga altered his official stance that Kwanzaa was to be seen as a replacement for Christmas and invited black Americans of all faiths to participate in addition to their various wintertime religious holidays. Karenga notes the difference between “spirituality” and “organized religion” as the difference between Kwanzaa and holidays such as Christmas and Hanukkah.
Considering this background, how should Christians respond to Kwanzaa? This is admittedly a difficult issue both spiritually and culturally, and it should be handled with much prayer. The African-American community has struggled to establish a cultural identity, so taking a few days of the year to focus on African heritage and promote a sense of connectedness with the past certainly could be a worthwhile endeavor. At the same time, we should be aware of the specific values taught during Kwanzaa. Some of these are indeed traditional African values, but some are more related to Black Nationalist or even supremacist ideology. Any ideology that conflicts with the biblical teaching of the equal value of every race must be rejected. In addition, Kwanzaa’s emphasis on an undefined “spirituality” is certainly not acceptable to the Christian understanding of Jesus Christ as the object of faith and Lord of life.
Ultimately, there are a number of ideas inherent in Karenga’s prescription for Kwanzaa that are at odds with Christian belief. Whether the holiday should be avoided altogether or significantly altered by Christians who observe it is a matter for serious consideration and prayer.