My oldest daughter learned about Kwanzaa last year at her public school. She learned that it was an African American holiday and wanted to know why we, a family of African Americans, didn't celebrate it. In my head I had a whole list of reasons, similar to the ones found in this article and the comments on this post, but I didn't tell her any of this. Instead I set about the task of reading all I could about Kwanzaa and figuring out how our family would observe the holiday. Last year it was important to celebrate Kwanzaa not because it was a black holiday but because my daughter, who often expresses anxiety about being the only black kid in her social circle, wanted to do something "black." However contrived the whole thing might be, easing some of her anxiety would be worth it.
The funny thing is, though, the family loved it. We bought a kinara and candles, but spent money on little else. We checked out some books on Kwanzaa from the library and read about Africa. We researched black scientists on the internet. We made a bunch of African flags from construction paper and made a black, red, and green streamer for the Christmas tree. And for seven days we enjoyed being together as a black family.
This year, as we got out the Christmas decorations, my daughter reminded me that we need to get out the Kwanzaa decorations as well. She had her wish list for Santa, but she was also looking forward to the handmade/useful/culturally relevant Kwanzaa gift she would get on the sixth night of Kwanzaa. She had hopes for a necklace made with African beads to match the bracelet she already owns. She was over the moon about the quilt made from her old t-shirts that she actually received. Our observance this year consisted of talking about the way we could practice the Kwanzaa principles all year (my favorite: the girls deciding on their own they could practice unity by not fighting all the time over toys), correcting my oldest daughter's impression that African American history consists solely of slavery and emancipation, reading about famous African princesses and fierce African American women, and listening to a lot of music (the baby has developed quite the passion for Motown and Miles Davis). We also made Kwanzza pal refrigerator magnets.