GLENS FALLS — The ears of multicolored corn on the Kwanzaa table represent children in the household, said Lee Braggs while detailing each item and its meaning.
On Friday, the second day of Kwanzaa, Braggs shared the traditions and principles of the African American celebration with World Awareness Children’s Museum visitors.
“Welcome to Kwanzaa,” Braggs said about the seven-day festival. “You see this elaborate display here, there is a story behind it, all of it. “
What is Kwanzaa? Braggs asked.
“Kwanzaa is a little bit of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year,” he explained. “It celebrates the African American people and their history. For this festival, everyone lights a candle on each day in a specially prepared candle holder.”
Explaining that Kwanzaa actually came out of the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles, Braggs said that, a year later, Maulana Karenga launched the holiday in the midst of the Black Power movement.
The Watts Riots or Rebellion started after an African-American motorist on parole for robbery was pulled over for reckless driving, resulting in an argument and subsequent fight with police officers.
Six days of civil unrest followed and nearly 4,000 members of the California Army National Guard were used to suppress the violence, resulting in 34 deaths and more than $40 million in property damage.
Still, with principles tied to unity and cooperation, Braggs said Kwanzaa is not just for African American people but for everyone.
“The word Kwanzaa itself comes from Kiswahili, the language of the Swahali people in Africa,” he said. “And they added the second ‘a’ to give it its own identity.”
“It also allows a commemoration of the past, especially our ancestors,” he said.
“They celebrate the creator, history, culture, and the promise of the coming year,” Braggs said.
The centerpiece of the Kwanzaa table is the lighting of the seven candles: one black in the center and three red and three green on either side of the black candle.
Braggs said that there is only one candle lit on each day of Kwanzaa and then on Jan. 1, he lights them all together.
During the celebration, Braggs invited all visitors to come up and select one of the seven principles and explain how the person would like to use that principle in the coming year. As part of the ritual, the hand is dipped into a bowl of water and the water is then cast on the self or another.
The seven principles — umoja (unity,) kujichagulia (self-determination,) ujima (collective work and responsibility,) ujamma (cooperative economics,) nia (purpose,) kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith) — correspond with a specific color candle on each of the seven days.
Those participating on Friday had messages and hopes of creativity, with one mother saying she wanted to take time every day to create something with her hands, another focusing on purpose and dedication to work. There were messages of unity and faith and working together.
Kwanzaa does not aim to take the place of Christmas but to offer a festival of love, handmade items and sharing foods together. Picking up several items he made over the years for Kwanzaa, Braggs said that because there is no commercialized aspect to Kwanzaa the costs are minimal.
“The celebration of Kwanzaa allowed African American children and their families the opportunity to share and celebrate a part of their own heritage,” he said.
Funds administered by the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council brought the Kwanzaa program to the museum.
Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli is a reporter and photographer covering Washington County, arts and life, features and breaking news.