Kwanzaa may seem to be but another holiday sandwiched between Christmas and New Year's Day, but to Kwanzaa founder Dr. Maulana Karenga, it's much more than that.
It's a celebration of African-American life and heritage and a time for honoring African ancestry.
"Kwanzaa is not simply a celebration; it's based on the five principles of the ancient 'first fruit' celebration," said Karenga before delivering the founder's keynote address during Saturday's celebration and lecture to the Kwanzaa Cooperative, a group of supporters, at William Penn High School on North Broad Street.
"More than 30 million people celebrate this on every continent of the world, and not by having a simple Kwanzaa celebration, but by absorbing the lessons and principles it teaches."
According the Karenga, those principles include reinforcing bonds through the gatherings of people, having a special time to revere the Creator and his creations, commemorating the past and honoring ancestors.
"There's a difference in just celebrating with song and dance," Karenga said. "It's an African-American holiday that celebrates family, community and culture, a celebration of life, the good in the world, brotherhood, sisterhood, family and marriage.
"It's a celebration of the earth and world itself and the fruits that come from these."
Karenga is a professor in the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, and also is also chairman of the President's Task Force on Multicultural Education and Campus Diversity there.
He has authored numerous books including "Maat, The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt: A Study in Classical African Ethics."
Karenga, who founded the Kwanzaa celebration in 1966, said that Kwanzaa is a time of "difficult personal assessment," a time for one to take a hard look at one's self.
"On the last day, we are supposed to sit down in sober assessment and measure ourselves to the best in our culture, and ask how do we stand," Karenga said.
"We do that by raising and answering the questions, 'Who am I?' 'Am I really who I am?' and 'Am I all I can be?' 'Do you speak truth, honor the elders and ancestors?'
"These are the questions we ask ourselves."
According to the official Kwanzaa Web site (www.officialkwanzaawebsite.com), the annual celebration is named after the first harvests in Africa.
Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to a particular theme.
The Web site also spells out the proper modes of celebrating Kwanzaa and details the seven principles, symbols and meditation practices.
"Kwanzaa teaches us to struggle for good in the world, based on the fundamental concept that we, as human beings, are divinely chosen to bring good into the world," Karenga said.
"Doing the good, willing the good and working tirelessly for it, believing in the good, doing the good and willing the good - that's our mission." *