“Tonight and all nights, we celebrate the spirits of all those who are here with us. Tonight and all nights, we celebrate the spirits of all those who are yet to come.”
The above words were recited seven times last night in Plemmons Student Union’s Blue Ridge Ballroom, once after each of the seven principles of Kwanzaa was explained.Each year, Appalachian State University’s Multicultural Center hosts a celebration of the holiday, which is open to anyone who wishes to attend. This year’s took place Wednesday night at 6 p.m.
Maulana Karenga, chairman of black studies at California State University, created Kwanzaa in 1966.
“It was formed to address the lack of a black holiday, and in part to address the exploitation of black America during the holiday season,” Joanna T. Arrington said.
Arrington is the assistant director of student engagement for Appalachian State University’s Multicultural Center.
The holiday draws from traditional African harvest and planting ceremonies, interim director Gus E. Peña said, and “is based around those basic principles of those first fruits that come from the harvest.”
Today, Kwanzaa is celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Each day, one of seven principles, called Nguzo Saba, drawn from African tribal tradition, is celebrated.
Kwanzaa is a simple family celebration and typically takes place in the home.
“It’s not a huge festival or a big street party type of thing,” Peña said.
At Appalachian, the event is more of a cultural outreach than a family celebration, with the lighting ceremony – which is typically stretched over seven nights – taking place in one sitting.
“What it has evolved into here…is just a neat way to expose the students and general public to a different celebratory event,” Arrington said.
The event also features a catered meal and a musical performance. This year, the Multicultural Center chose Kentucky Fried Chicken as the event caterer and Greensboro dance troupe Sugar Foote Productions was chosen as the performer. The gospel choir also performed several selections.
The event was popular with the community and the student body. By 6:15, the ballroom was nearly at capacity. The Multicultural Center had printed programs, but freshman public relations major Brittany N. Cannady said they quickly ran out.
Like Arrington, Peña hoped the event would educate and enrich those in attendance.
“I feel like students, and people in general, usually learn when they’re able to step out of their own cultural perspective and observe other traditions…it can bring a community together when they start to learn more about their neighbors,” he said.
“When you become educated about another culture,” she said, “you gain respect for it.”