TheGrio Daily

Kwanzaa: The Most Wonderful Holiday of All

Episode 75

Michael Harriot has been celebrating Kwanzaa all his life and for the next 2 weeks, he’s sharing personal memories and lessons he’s learned throughout the years. In the first episode of this holiday series, he’ll explain the seven days of Kwanzaa which each carry a specific purpose. TheGrio Daily is an original podcast by theGrio Black Podcast Network. #BlackCultureAmplified


[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplify. 

Michael Harriot [00:00:05] I’m dreaming of a Black Christmas. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, that’s a Juneteenth Carol, Right. Oh, hey, hey, hey, hey. How ya’ll doing right? Oh, yeah. It is the most wonderful time of the year. And everybody knows what it is. it is time for gift giving. It’s time to see the snow falling. It’s time for the greatest holiday of all. Kwanzaa. But Kwanzaa is the greatest holidy of them all. As far as I’m concerned Kwanzaa is the greatest holiday of them all. I’ve been celebrating Kwanzaa, you know, all of my life as long as I can remember. And I know it’s a new holiday for some people, some people be disrespecting Kwanzaa. But that’s why we’re here today. So I want to welcome you to this episode of theGrio Daily. 

Michael Harriot [00:01:26] Its Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa begins the day after Jesus birthday. I think, well we know is not Jesus birthday. But, you know, when people celebrate Jesus birthday, which is a whole nother story that we won’t get into. But Kwanzaa is typically celebrated for seven days, beginning December 26th, right up until, you know, they have fireworks to designate the last day of Kwanzaa. That’s what those fireworks are for, right? Hold, hold on. My producers are telling me that that’s actually New Year. Oh, I didn’t even know that. Yeah. So I’ve been celebrating Kwanzaa since I was a kid. I got like, just as many Christmas stories as you have, I have Kwanzaa stories. And we’re going to do these, like a few episodes, man, about Kwanzaa. Cause, like, I got stories to tell, I got explainers. I got a bunch of stuff that I want to talk about, about Kwanzaa. But first, I think we should start with, you know, where Kwanzaa came from, right? Because, you know, a lot of people say that Kwanzaa is a made up holiday, which is okay, I’ll admit, Kwanzaa is a made up holiday. Because here’s the thing. All holidays are made up, right? Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th. That was a day that was given to Jesus’s birthday. You got to look up Saturnalia and how, you know, the Catholic Pope decided that, okay, we’re going to let your celebrate of yours, heathen or non-Christian holidays and just name it Christmas. Look that up. Because, I mean, there’s not enough time to go into that. 

Michael Harriot [00:03:30] But all holidays are made up. We celebrate Dr. King’s birthday on a day that is often not Dr. King’s birthday. We celebrate the new year on an arbitrary day on the Gregorian calendar that was assigned to the New Year, that typically in most cultures, the New Year began in the spring. We celebrate what’s what some of the good holidays, the 4th of July. Even though the Declaration of Independence was not signed on the 4th of July. Look that up. We celebrate all holidays on days that we just made up. And in the 1960s, a man named Maulana Karenga decided that we should have a holiday that symbolizes Black people’s unity. You know, the Black people struggle that unifies Black America. And he chose Kwanzaa or he named it Kwanzaa. Right. And Kwanzaa is important because, you know, when you think about Kwanzaa, right, it’s a relatively new holiday. And that’s why a lot of people don’t celebrate it. I would imagine that, you know, the first 60 years of the Roman Empire, people really didn’t celebrate Christmas instead of Saturnalia. Right. And then as the world grew more Christian, they just translated the Christmas trees and the gift giving and the debauchery to Christmas and said, we belong to the same thing, we just going to call it a Christmas. 

Michael Harriot [00:05:26] And so Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday, but we should be ahead of the curve, man, we should really start celebrating Kwanzaa. And I know people say, well, you know, how do you believe in Kwanzaa? It’s not the thing that you believe in. I don’t believe in. Thanksgiving, right? It is a day that you celebrate giving things. And the same is true with Kwanzaa. It is a tradition more than it is a thing that you believe. Right. And you can start getting into the tradition now. So Kwanzaa has seven days. And those seven days like, you know, even though I grew up celebrating Kwanzaa, the days of Kwanzaa, I learned from Kwanzaa, Carol, that was written by a lady in my church. But it’s the vibe. Each day has a specific purpose and meaning. And the first day is Umoja, which means unity. And these words, by the way, come from Kiswahili, which is a language that was created to kind of unite the African languages and make Africans able to communicate with each other. So Umoja means unity. That’s the first day, right? It means to strive for and to maintain unity in your family and your community and wherever you live. Right. Unity is important, that’s why the first day is important now. 

Michael Harriot [00:07:12] Umoja day was always the first day of our celebration. We used to have our Kwanzaa celebration, and I know this is going to sound weird at Young and Young Funeral Home, which is a Black owned funeral home in my hometown and everybody in our neighborhood would gather. I don’t even know how my family became like in charge of Kwanzaa for our community. But like in the days leading up to like the community Kwanzaa celebration, like people would bring by money to buy Kwanzaa decorations and food for the Kwanzaa celebration or money to buy the food for Kwanzaa celebration. And then, you know, we would go to that funeral home and on Umoja day, they would have everybody just kickin it, right? We just be united. Like Umoja day was the most fun day because we would have a bazaar and we would have basketball games. Somebody would cook out. Like in South Carolina, you can cook out in December. So it was basically a unity date, kind of like a church picnic almost, but it wasn’t really religious. 

Michael Harriot [00:08:31] The second day of Kwanzaa is Kujichagulia. Say it with me. Kujichagulia. Which means self determination. It’s what Republicans call pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, but it’s basically like allowing your community to determine its path. Right. So the thing that we had to do on Kujichagulia is voter registration. Like, I guess that has a lot to do with self-determination. But everybody would have to register somebody to vote for Kujichagulia. And then we’d have like a Black politician, usually the local city councilman who. Wait, I just realized he was also the owner of Young and Young Funeral Home. But like, I can’t say he was trying to drum up business because it wasn’t like we kill somebody for Kujichagulia. So, the second day was about self-determination. 

Michael Harriot [00:09:40] The third day, which was my, one of my favorite days, I can’t say the favorite day was cooperative economics. That’s when they brought a business person in or that’s when, like everybody vowed, you only buy Black on Ujamaa. Right. So, cooperative economics. What is cooperative economics? Again, it is the concept that, and it’s closely tied to self determination, is circling your money in your own community. Now that may seem like, you know, some kind of Black power ideal, but the truth is right, cooperative economics is how you build a community or how you build anything right. Like cooperative economics is why white people say they’re going to buy American. Because they know that if you spend money with people in your neighborhood or your community or your country, that money is more likely to not just stay in your community, but if it stays there, the business owners will hire people in your community or in your country. If you stay there, it will use the resources of your community to suck all that money around. So if you have a, let’s say, a Black owned restaurant in your neighborhood, they’ll probably hire some people from your neighborhood. They’ll probably use the dry cleaners in your neighborhood to clean the uniforms. That’s how you circulate money. That’s cooperative economics. 

Michael Harriot [00:11:30] The fourth day is Nia. That’s why I like the preponderance or the spread of, I believe Kwanzaa is why like there was a whole generation of of women and Black girls born in the seventies and eighties named Nia. Nia Long and Nia means purpose right. And it’s about the future. It’s how I translated purposes, not just like the existential idea of why are you here, but having a purpose in your actions, right? So the thing about Nia is thinking about why you do the things you do. Right. Being intentional about uniting your neighborhood or your community, thinking about how you exist and move in society and how that relates to others. Giving a purpose or assigning a purpose to your actions. For instance, you want a hamburger. Why go to McDonald’s when you know you’ve got a Black restaurant right there that makes the same or better hamburgers? Or, for instance, why would you go to the local grocery store and by the same candy that you can get from your candy lady? It might be a little bit more expensive at the grocery store, but. Like you spending a quarter, bruh. It’s not like you’re getting a whole bunch more from the grocery store, but you’re going to also get that money back because you’re spending with purpose. 

Michael Harriot [00:13:30] Now, the sixth day of Kwanzaa was always my favorite day. And that was because it was Kuumba Day. K.U.U.M.B.A. Kuumba means creativity and we always have a talent show for Kuumba Day. Man, on Kuumba Day everybody basically broke into groups because first of all, everybody wanted to be in a singing group, even if you couldn’t sing and be in the Kuumba Day talent show. Because Kuumba Day talent show you could win cash and prizes seriously, like, like the local businesses gave like gift cards. This is really before gift cards. They just print out your certificate that gave you, you know, three free meals or some donated money. So I think the prize when I was growing up was $100, which doesn’t sound like a lot. But when you 12 in the 1980s or the nine, yeah in the 1980s,  $100 would a long way when you’re 12 years old. Like you could buy, like, a whole thing. That’s a Black measurement, a whole thing of candy with $100. So the Kuumba Day Creativity Talent show was a big deal. Like I won it one year, right? Yeah. I don’t want to brag, but I was one of the highest rated rappers in the PD area during the 1980s and my rap group actually won Kuumba Day and we were kind of a big deal. Like, I could have probably been a rapper, but you know, Bad Boy Records didn’t want to sign me. Def Jam probably was trying to call me, but my sister was probably talking to her boyfriend on the phone. I’m pretty sure that’s what it was, but trust me. Kuumba Day was great. 

Michael Harriot [00:15:33] And then. The last day of Kwanzaa, the final day of Kwanzaa was Imani. Faith. A lot of people equate faith with religion, but like our our Kwanzaa celebration weren’t really religious. But on Faith Day, we’d have this big celebration where choirs would come in and sing. And it was like almost like a choir showdown. Like it was like verses, but with church choirs. That’s how I would describe it now. But the great thing about the last date was that, first of all, the Deltas would give away a bike. And every day you came to the Kwanzaa celebration, you got another ticket. So if you came for all seven days, you have a better chance of winning the Delta bicycle than if you just came one day, right? Because everybody was going to be their on Kuumba Day, but they was only going to get one ticket. And all during Kwanzaa, we would have a children’s choir practice. Right. My neighbor, Ms.. Hunter, she was the director of the children’s choir. So you have to stay. She’d lure us in. She’d make these cupcakes, they had candy in the middle. Some of the cupcakes would have, like Now and Laters in the middle. Some of them would have,ff my favorite was Mary Janes. Some of them would have Jolly Ranchers in the middle. But we practice all week, and then we would be like the headlining choir on the last day. 

Michael Harriot [00:17:18] On Imani Day. And we would headline that big verses battle and we would sing a song that she wrote called We Are Celebrating Kwanzaa, which is still one of my, I mean that song slapped, ya’ll. We’re going to come back in the next episode and I’m going to just give you some Kwanzaa stories that I remember about my childhood growing up celebrating Kwanzaa. But to do that, you’re probably gonna have to subscribe to this podcast, and you probably should also download theGrio app, and you should definitely tell a friend about Kwanzaa and this podcast. And as always. We leave you with a Black saying since it’s Kwanzaa the only appropriate saying to leave you with is the Kwanzaa greeting. Habari Gani? And thank you for listening to this episode of theGrio. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. Download theGrio app, subscribe to the show and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments to podcasts at theGrio dot com. 

[00:18:46] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.