While African-Americans practice diverse religions and spiritualities, many will celebrate the joys of Christmas during this holiday season. One wonderful joy to share includes reading with children. Although we live in a technology-rich world, to me very little is more endearing and, I hope, enduring, than creating that experience, especially at a time that honors, encourages, and promotes hope, charity, forgiveness, and best of all, love.
During this season, many throughout the United States also celebrate the first African-American holiday, Kwanzaa! “Kwanzaa“, which is Swahili for “first”, was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga and launched initially in December 1966. Kwanzaa honors the Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of African heritage that Dr. Karenga best felt represented the greatest of African wisdom and practices. Kwanzaa lasts seven days, beginning December 26 and culminating with a feast and giving of gifts on January 1. For each of the seven days of Kwanzaa, a kawaida principle of tradition and its accompanying purpose is dedicated. In accordance with Dr. Karenga’s teachings, each day, families light one of the seven candles (three red, three green and one black) on a kinara, a wooden candleholder designed for Kwanzaa, which represents that day’s principle.
The 7 Principles of Kwanzaa
Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race: December 26, Red Candle;
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves: December 27, Red Candle;
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together: December 28, Red Candle;
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together: December 29, Green Candle;
Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness: December 30, Green Candle;
Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it: December 31, Green Candle; and
Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle: January 1, Black Candle.
Other items accompanying Kwanzaa could be a mkeka, a mat; mazao, or fruits and vegetables; kikombe cha umoja, a unity cup; muhindi or corn; and zawadi, or gifts. For more detailed information about Kwanzaa from the creator himself, please read Dr. Karenga’s, Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community & Culture.
There are many books written about the reasons for remembrance and celebration of Christmas and Kwanzaa. To honor these holidays, I have comprised a brief list of Christmas & Kwanzaa books that I hope you find as awesome in sharing with your loved ones as I do with mine…Have a blessed holiday season!!
African-American Children’s Books for Christmas & Kwanzaa
- The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll Written by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
A touching story about the importance of real family, this is a tale set in the American South during the Depression. Seven-year-old Nella receives the doll of her dreams, a Baby Betty doll for Christmas, but will it replace the affection she holds for her sisters?
2. Mim’s Christmas JamWritten by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
When Pap is called away from his family and home in Wildroot, Pennsylvania to New York City in order to dig “a long, wide hole for something called a ’subway'”, everyone is miserable. Saraleen and Royce’s Christmas gift of Mim’s “belly-hum” jam melts Pap’s heart…could it even warm the cold hearts of his bosses, Mr. Mead and Mr. Evans a.k.a. “Mean and Evil”?
3. The Little Match Girl (Picture Puffin Books) Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Taking place in the early 20th century, Mr. Pinkney (who also illustrated The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll) has transformed the 19th-century tale of Andersen’s Danish girl, making her of international culture, thus making her of everyone, for everyone. This classic story reminds us of the true meanings of Christmas—acceptance, and love, for all.
4. Hallelujah: A Christmas Celebration Written by W. Nikola-Lisa, illustrated by Synthia Saint James
This simply told, beautifully illustrated book tells the traditional story of the birth of baby Jesus, featuring an all-Black Nativity. Those fans of Saint James’ artwork will surely wish to add this to their collection.
5. Christmas Soul: African American Holiday StoriesAs told to Allison Samuels, illustrated by Michele Wood
In this poignant book, Black celebrities, including Mary J. Blige, Jamie Foxx, Monica, Grant Hill, Patti LaBelle, and Denzel Washington, reminisce on their favorite childhood memories of Christmas. Heartwarming and funny (it also includes Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Tucker!), I hope these stories invite you and your loved ones to share your favorite Christmas stories!
6. K Is For KwanzaaWritten by Juwanda G. Ford, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max
The text and artwork are so inviting in this book that I really can’t exclaim enough about them if you wish to educate young children on Kwanzaa. An exciting exercise to undertake after reading and discussing this book would be to create your own Kwanzaa alphabet book!
7. Together for Kwanzaa (Pictureback(R))Written by Juwanda G. Ford, illustrated by Shelly Hehenberger
Another piece written by Ford, this fictional work describes Kayla’s apprehension about celebrating Kwanzaa, her favorite holiday of the year, without her brother, Khari, whose return home from school has been blocked by a snowstorm. Will Khari be able to make it home it time to share in Kayla and his family’s festivities before the seven days of Kwanzaa are over?
8. Kwanzaa: Seven Days of African-American Pride (Finding Out about Holidays)
Written by Carol Gnojewski
This book is filled with wonderful photographs to further emphasize the development and celebrations of Kwanzaa by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Containing a glossary, a craft project, and links to various internet sites for greater research to help the reader learn more about the customs and practices of Kwanzaa, this book is a must-have for parents and educators!
9. Kwanzaa Kids (Lift-the-Flap, Puffin)
Written by Joan Holub, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max
If the artwork looks familiar, it’s because the artist illustrated K is for Kwanzaa: A Kwanzaa Alphabet Book. What makes this really cool is that this is a “lift-the-flap” book, encouraging little ones to learn and explore the principles, via the seven days, of Kwanzaa at a very young age!
10. A Kwanzaa Holiday Cookbook (Festive Foods for the Holidays)Written by Emily Raabe
While this discusses Kwanzaa, this concise book details the importance of food to Kwanzaa celebrations and includes four recipes: Benne Cakes, Kwanzaa Cornbread, Sweet Potato Fritters, and Coconut Chicken Chews. It also includes a discussion about the ceremony of Karamu, suggestions on how to celebrate Kwanzaa, a glossary, and websites for further research.
11. Santa’s Kwanzaa
Written by Garen Eileen Thomas, illustrated by Guy Francis
This colorful and imaginative children’s story combines themes of Christmas and Kwanzaa. In this hilarious and moving twist, Santa Claus, finally resting at home from his hectic Christmas Eve activities, is the recipient of gifts from his seven elves, in honor of Kwanzaa. However, as January 1 appears, Santa has more Kwanzaa spirit than he needs. What will he gift the world in honor of Christmas and Kwanzaa?!