Invented in 1966, Kwanzaa may be the youngest of the winter celebrations, but it descends from long-standing harvest-ritual traditions in Africa, such as those of the Ashanti and Zulu peoples.
The seven days of the holiday -- Dec. 26-Jan. 1 this time around -- may trigger thoughts of the eight days of Hanukkah. Both holidays use a candelabrum to mark the days, though Kwanzaa names each day after a different principle on which African-Americans may reflect (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith). Perhaps what most sets Kwanzaa apart is its nonreligious nature; in that sense, it doesn't really compete with the other December hoedowns.
The St. Louis Kwanzaa Committee sponsors two fun activities this week: "Day of Umoja" opens the holiday with workshops, discussions, performances by the Ngoma African Drummers and Dancers, kids' activities and a candlelighting ceremony at the Firefighters Institute for Racial Equality, 1020 N. Taylor Ave. Call 314-496-7911 for more info on the happening, which begins at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 26. The similarly named "Ujima Day" is a skating party featuring songs, candlelighting and music by Afrikan Diaspora from 1-4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 28, at the Skate King Skating Center, 2700 Kienlen Ave. Call the number listed above for more info on the skating party, which costs just $7 per family.
Forest Park's St. Louis Art Museum gets into the act with "The Heart and Soul of Kwanzaa," sponsored by local Delta Sigma Theta sorority alumnae. Artist/filmmaker/writer/community organizer Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn speaks to the assembled, and the Moja Moya Drummers and Delta Academy Girls Choir perform. Call 314-721-0072 for more info on the free event, which gets started at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 29.
Also on Dec. 29, the Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd., offers "Kwanzaa: Festival of the First Fruits," which includes a ceremony, storytelling, craft and jewelry workshops, and drummers and other musicians. The event is free with Garden admission (free-$7) and runs from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Call 314-577-9400 for more details.