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A non-black person's guide to Kwanzaa

By Kendall Trammell

Published December 25, 2018

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You don't have to be black to understand how Kwanzaa works.

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Here's some common Kwanzaa knowledge everyone should know.

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You can spell it Kwanzaa or Kwanza

Regardless, it's pronounced "kwahn-zuh." The name comes from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza," which means "first fruits."

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But don't assume every black person speaks Swahili

Don't even assume just the black people who celebrate Kwanzaa speak Swahili. (Emphasis on the "black people who celebrate Kwanzaa" part.)

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Maulana Karenga, the professor who created the holiday in 1966, chose Swahili as the holiday's language because it's one that isn't defined by a particular African region or tribe.

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And it's not a Hanukkah knockoff

Hanukkah is eight days. Kwanzaa is seven. The Jewish holiday involves a menorah. Kwanzaa lights a kinara. But they both have their own histories, so don't try to compare them.

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You can celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a nonreligious holiday for African-Americans to celebrate their ancestral roots. So you can have your merry Christmas and a happy Kwanzaa, too.

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Just don't think it's about more gift giving

While the last day of Kwanzaa focuses on gift giving, the presents are usually homemade and represent African-American heritage.

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It's OK to be excited for the feast

December 31 marks the day Kwanzaa celebrants come together for a feast known as Karamu. It usually includes different steps, such as a welcome, remembrance, rejoicing and a farewell.

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Kwanzaa doesn't discriminate

Just like any other holiday, all races and ethnic groups are welcome to participate in the Kwanzaa rituals.

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