Do You Celebrate Kwanzaa?

A discussion of Kwanzaa, it's founder Maulana Karenga, and Christianity.
Once, sometime during my childhood (around elementary school), a woman in my community decided to put together a Kwanzaa festival. So for 7 days, we came together with her to learn about the princples of Kwanzaa and esentially celebrate. That was the first and last time my family celebrated Kwanzaa...

As an adult, as I shook off pagan holidays like Christmas and Easter, Kwanzaa didn't cross my mind. Eventually, however, I did start to wonder and ask myself "is it ok to celebrate Kwanzaa?"

What is Kwanzaa

To answer the question, we first have to look at what Kwanzaa is: what is it's origin and what does it represent. The sparks note version of Kwanzaa's origin story is that it was invented in 1966 as a non-religious way to celebrate African culture—those of us descending from African slaves were stripped of our heritage and culture, so this was an attempt to reclaim and embrace some form of African culture. Like many of the Biblical feasts, Kwanzaa is not a single day of celebration; it lasts for 7 days (from December 26 - January 1). Each day is marked by a specific principle—umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kumma (creativity), and imani (faith)—and respresented by a candle.[1]

Digging deeper into the history, however, brings to mind quite a few questions (for me at least). The founder of Kwanzaa, Dr. Maulana Karenga, is a professor at California State University. In the 1960's he formed an organization called US that though originally inspired by ideology from Malcolm X, eventually became a rival to the Black Panther Party. In 1969, this rivalry peaked in a shooting that killed 4 Black Panthers. The LAPD supported the conflict and Dr. Karenga's organization. In 1971, Dr. Karenga was convicted of felongy assault for torturing two women. Dr. Karenga denies any involvement in the crime.[2][3]

Does it Glorify God

The primary question for anything we participate is: does it glorify God? There are many things in our modern world that are not mentioned in the Bible; the litmus test for whether these things deserve a place in our lives is how they jive with the word of God.

Unlike holidays such as Christmas or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa doesn't have any religious connections. There is no deity or long standing history that links it back to paganism to set off alarm bells. Yet, the holiday is spiritual. This is evidenced in the seventh principle. Those who celebrate Kwanzaa argue that it is for a person of any religion, and logically faith could apply uniquely to each individual. (Pause for me imagining myself announcing to a crowd: "Continue to have faith in whatever it is you have faith in!" 😂)

Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of evidence that part of Dr. Karenga's motivation for creating the holiday was actally to lead black Americans away from Christianity. A holiday like Kwanzaa would be great during black history month or for Juneteenth, but Dr. Karenga chose December specifically becuase he wanted to create an alternative—not supplemental—holiday to Christmas. While I, and many others, may understand that Christmas is a pagan holiday that has nothing to do with Christianity, most of the world sees it has a Christian holiday. Based on Dr. Karenga's statements, it is evident that he saw Christmas as a Christian holiday and wanted blacks to reject Christianity.[3]
Kwanzaa is not an imitation, but an alternative, in fact, an oppositional alternative to the spookism, mysticism and non-earth based practices which plague us as a people and encourage our withdrawal from social life rather than our bold confrontation with it. Maulana Karenga

Dr. Maulana is a secular humanist and thus Kwanzaa is primarily influenced by secular humanism.


If I'm being honest, I love the idea of Kwanzaa. There is a part of me that wants to throw out all of the parts I don't agree with and create a Kwanzaa remix that I can celebrate. I want to move it to February, strip out any ideas that conflict with Christianity, and pretend that the founder hasn't been accused of heinous acts of violence. Of course, then it wouldn't be Kwanzaa any more. The truth is, as a descendent of people who were stripped of their identity, there will always be a longing for a cultural tie to my ancestors. Kwanzaa presents itself as a possiblity, but truthfully, it isn't my heritage. The lingo for Kwanzaa is all based on Swahili which is mostly spoken in eastern Africa—the people stolen from Africa were taken from west Africa. Like the native tribes of the Americas, there were (and likely still are) vast cultural differences between tribes and peoples on the continent of Africa. Sometimes things just aren't meant to be.

I think it's great to celebrate our African heritage, however, I don't suspect Kwanzaa will be my way of doing so. Do you celebrate Kwanzaa, and if so, have you experienced any conflict over it's principles vs. those of the Bible?


  1. The Offical Kwanzaa Website
  2. "Maulana Karenga". Wikipedia; visited January 2021
  3. Harold T. Fisher. "The Kwanzaa Quandary". The Balitmore Sun. December 2, 2007
  4. Bruce A. Dixon. "Why I Can't Celebrate Kwanzaa". Jacobin; visited January 2021
  5. David Roach. "Black SBC pastor & prof: Kwanzaa not rooted in faith". Baptist Press. December 21, 2005

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