Tallahassee family celebrates the value of Kwanzaa

By Daria Laycock
Outlook writer

The Scriven family won’t have a Christmas tree. No stockings will be hung by the fireplace and there won’t be any holiday carols nor jingle bells.

Instead, the family will gather around a Kwanzaa Altar and embrace their African ancestral roots.

The Tallahassee family hasn’t always celebrated Kwanzaa. They started about 10 years ago after Darryl Scriven met Maulana Karenga at a talk about Kwanzaa at Spellman University.

Karenga is founder of the African celebration that has grown in popularity in recent years. Scriven discussed the idea with his wife. She’s since embraced it.

“She wanted to have a unique experience for our children,” Scriven said, adding that it’s “some kind of identity beyond what was imposed upon us.”

Karenga came up with the idea of Kwanzaa in 1966 to have an African-American alternative to Christmas. Kwanzaa explores the African Diaspora.

An estimated 28 million people celebrate the holiday worldwide, according  to Karenga.

During the seven days that follow Christmas, families that celebrate Kwanzaa embrace traditional African principles from the Nguzo Saba, said Scriven, chairman of FAMU’s department of  Visual Arts, Humanities and Theatre.

Each day is given a different principle that is practiced throughout each day. The days focus on principles that include unity, self determination, collective work, responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Traditions involve drinking from a unity cup and celebrating the harvest with fresh corn and fruit.

Scriven said his favorite day during Kwanzaa is the one that emphasizes collective work and responsibility.

“You hear a lot about the state of the Black community and the deficits we have,” he said. “That day highlights that we have the ability and capacity to overcome some of these challenges if we work together.”

Each night the principal and its definition are read aloud as the family sits around the altar.

Instead of the traditional celebration around a Christmas tree decorated with bulbs and tinsel, families who celebrate Kwanzaa have an altar that they decorate with a kinara, seven candles, traditional cloths and fresh produce.

The Scrivens use their altar as a learning experience and constant installation in their home.

“Our Kwanzaa altar stays up year round,” Scriven said. “When people come into the foyer of our home they see the altar.”

“We have a book by Dr. Karenga on the altar that explains Kwanzaa. People see the candles but they can get some literature also.”
While Christmas has become commercialized with the hustling and bustling to purchase gifts, Forbes Magazine reported that holiday spending exceeded $1 trillion in 2016.

Kwanzaa involves the gifting of handmade presents.

Occasionally some families who celebrate Kwanzaa give in and recognize Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Christ.

One of the traditional Kwanzaa gifts is beeswax candles. Brian Facen makes those as a Kwanzaa gift for his mother.  They used them during prayer to Yahweh, the Hebrew God.

Facen is a Hebrew Israelite who believes the holiday is birthright.

Hebrew Israelites are sometimes referred to as Black Hebrews or African Hebrews. Because of this connection to Africa he has strong ties to the principles expressed through Kwanzaa.

On each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa, with a candle burning in the background, Facen recites the night’s principal and meditates on its meaning.

“It’s not just about getting dressed up and playing pretend,” Facen said. “It’s about thinking of ways to live the principals in your everyday life.”

On the last day of Kwanzaa participants feast on traditional African American foods. This breaking of bread symbolizes a conjunction of African and American identities.

“Christmas is fine (and) other holidays are fine,” Scriven said. “But we realized that they really had nothing that roots and anchors us in a sense of who we are.”