Kwanzaa is more relevant than ever in recession

Kwanzaa has arrived.

The seven-day Afrocentric holiday from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1 is a period of rededication to basic principles we can all embrace. Some are especially relevant for surviving a deep recession.

Kwanzaa has arrived in another sense: It has become accepted.

Even though the holiday was controversial in its beginnings because it was viewed as a challenge to Christmas, it has taken on a life of its own. Nowadays it is considered a secular holiday celebrated by people of all religious faiths or no faith at all.

Proof of its maturing as a holiday is the commercialism that has grown up around it. When you can buy holiday cards at Walgreen’s, order holiday merchandise on scads of online websites, meet young adults who were raised with family celebrations and find it on most calendars, the event is a real holiday.

Forty-two years ago, amid an explosion of black pride and activism, Kwanzaa was born. A California black studies professor named Maulana Ron Karenga invented it and went to great lengths to create a series of rituals and symbols to shape the celebration.

I have to confess I never felt totally enthusiastic about Kwanzaa because it seemed so contrived and because Karenga seemed intent on creating a cult of personality.

But as an African American, I appreciate its affirmation of our history as a people that was brought here in chains. Even though most of us don’t know which countries our ancestors came from, through Kwanzaa we honor our African ancestry.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa originally addressed African Americans above all. Those principles are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Over time, the holiday began to speak to all Americans.

And today, some of these principles can help us through the economic crisis we are in.

For example, after almost a decade of rampant materialism and competition, we need cooperation — or “cooperative economics,” in Kwanzaa terms — to get through the downturn. This means helping local businesses and joining co-ops and working in such endeavors as community gardens.

Similarly, “collective work and responsibility” means helping one another within our communities. And “creativity” means not just using our imagination for artistic purposes but also for making our communities better.

With “faith” in each other, and working together in “unity” and with “purpose,” we can help ourselves and all those around us in this time of need.

Happy Kwanzaa!

Starita Smith is a doctoral student and instructor in sociology at the University of North Texas. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.