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Gift-Giving & Sharing Good During Kwanzaa

Dr. Maulana Karenga, creator of Kwanzaa, emphasizes the deep significance of gift-giving during the holiday season. For Kwanzaa, gift-giving transcends material exchanges, becoming a ritual of celebration, education, and community building. In the spirit of sharing good, Dr. Karenga underscores the importance of meaningful gifts that express care, bring joy, and strengthen relationships. The practice of Kwanzaa gift-giving is rooted in instructive and inspirational ideals, aligning with the principles of the holiday.
#Kwanzaa #GiftGiving #CommunityCelebration #AfricanHeritage

By Dr. Maulana Karenga
Creator of Kwanzaa

Above all, gift-giving is the sharing of good, and practiced rightly, it becomes not only a ritual of celebration, but also a lesson and a model and mirror of how we should live our lives. For it is not only the giving of things, but also a sharing of the good of ourselves, expressing beautiful emotions and building, reaffirming and reenforcing our relationships in reciprocal sharing.

As the season of gift-giving opens up during our end-of-the-year holidays, we know our gift-giving should be and needs to be more than a simple offering and exchange of money and material things. But we know that in a materialist and consumerist society, gift-giving can and often does lose its best meaning.

Thus, it is important for us who actually care to hold fast to this deeply African and human practice of gift-giving in its most meaningful forms.

This means engaging it as a vital way of sharing good, expressing caring, bringing joy, giving thanks, offering assistance, building and strengthening relationships, and practicing reciprocity of good done and good returned.

In this regard, I want to share with you a section from my book on Kwanzaa titled Kwanzaa, A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture (Sankore Press) on “Zawadi, Gift-Giving,” as an essential but not dominating or diverting practice which dilutes and diminishes the integrity, expansive meaning and beauty of the holiday as a whole.

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First, we decided that even though we respected the desire of our children to have gifts at that time because of peer concerns and the relentless push of seasonal advertising, Kwanzaa gift-giving would not be automatic or done without reference to the needs of the people and their struggle. Kwanzaa gift-giving by the internal demands of the holiday had to be designed to be instructive and inspirational.

Secondly, we decided that Kwanzaa gift-giving had to be open and informed so that parents would receive due credit for their sacrifice and hard work to provide their children with the gifts.

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This, in fact, also put an end to the negative and demeaning practice of reducing African American parents to the role of mediators and messengers for a European cultural symbol in red and white, promising things that he could not deliver and had no idea of whether the parents could either. Such an arrangement not only makes a mockery of reality, but also damages the image of loving and productive parents in the process.

Thirdly, it was agreed that in order to escape the economic entrapment of Christmas advertising, we would not buy presents until after Christmas and also observe some basic guidelines. These include the stipulations that: 1) children be the main recipient of Kwanzaa gifts; 2) that the gifts be given on the basis of commitments made and kept; and 3) that they not be mandatory or excessive.

To purchase gifts after Christmas is to take advantage of after-Christmas sales and thus escape the exorbitant prices established for the season. Secondly, making children the main recipients of gifts rightly lowers the number of recipients and in many cases also lowers the price of the gifts. Thirdly, to make the gift equal in value to the achievement record moderates the mania for unrestricted buying just for the season or in response to the open or subliminal seduction of advertisers.

Kwanzaa gifts must always include two items: A) a book, and B) a heritage symbol – regardless of what else is given.

This stipulation clearly points to our priorities of building and liberating our people. The book reflects and reinforces our commitment to education as an indispensable part of the struggle for liberation and reconstruction.

The heritage symbol can be an African art object … or any other hero, heroine or any appropriate representation of our history and culture. Its purpose is to keep us constantly in touch with ourselves, our history and our own humanity.

In a word, it is to shield us from the vulgar envelopment by the views and values of the dominant society, remind us of the richness of our past and point to the unlimited possibilities of our future.

Dr. Maulana Karenga, Professor and Chair of Africana Studies, California State University-Long Beach; Executive Director, African American Cultural Center (Us); Creator of Kwanzaa; and author of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture.

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