Kwanzaa Goes Mainstream As It Gains Acceptance Among Retailers

Published: December 24 1996

Category:Business, Race, Research

GAINESVILLE — Among the Santa Clauses, mangers and Menorahs of retail and grocery store displays, colorful swatches of African cloth are becoming more common across the country.

Kwanzaa, a holiday that celebrates African culture and begins Thursday, is going mainstream, says a University of Florida professor.

“In urban centers with large black populations, there have been Kwanzaa displays for some time,” said Errol Henderson, assistant professor of political science at UF. “The increasing number of displays recently is due in part to a more open celebration of multiculturalism; we celebrate diversity in society more now than in the past.”

Celebrated Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a California scholar and philosopher.

Stores nationwide have added Kwanzaa displays to their Christmas and Hanukkah displays. For some stores, the change is new, prompted by increased efforts toward multiculturalism. Other stores, such as Kmart, have had Kwanzaa displays since the 80s, said Henderson.

“I believe that commercialization can be of positive value, as long as we do not suggest that the commercialization in itself is the positive value, for example, reducing Christmas to just buying presents,” Henderson said.

“Kwanzaa is practiced all over the world, predominantly in North America among the African diaspora,” Henderson said. “This is a nonreligious, nonheroic holiday practiced predominantly among African-Americans but also among other cultural groups. This is not a competition with Christmas or Hanukkah.”

Kwanzaa is a celebration of seven basic principles, referred to as the Nguzo Saba: unity, self-determination, collective work, responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose and faith.

“The principles are quite universal. Karenga synthetized these from a review of African cultures,” Henderson said. “These emphasize family, community and culture. They have definite cultural significance to African-Americans but are universal through many cultures.

“The significance of multiculturalism is not in tolerating other cultures but in understanding other cultures, especially during this time of year, with Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa,” Henderson said. “I do not feel these holidays are competing; I feel they reinforce each other in celebrating the best in our human experience.”


Scott Adams

Category:Business, Race, Research