RE JENICE Armstrong's recent column on Kwanzaa:

I don't have a clue whether the number of blacks celebrating Kwanzaa is increasing or declining, since I can't polling every African-American in the nation, so I'll simply speak for me.

Thirteen years ago, my family decided to make Kwanzaa a yearly tradition. And each year it gets bigger as the family grows. I have to juggle the family Kwanzaa activities with about a half-dozen invites to other Kwanzaa events.

As it relates to the celebration of Christmas (the birth of the baby Jesus in a manger), my question is, do we really celebrate that? Or do we celebrate shopping on the altar of excess? Is swarming retail stores to scoop up blinged-out jewelry or the latest high-priced electronic marvel really a celebration of the season? Or are we dutifully following the insistent command of the media shilling for merchants and advertisers? "Only X more days to shop" is the constant refrain.

I'm disappointed that author Blair S. Walker has given up on Kwanzaa and believes that most blacks have no understanding of its principles. While many may not be familiar with the principles (in Swahili: umoja, kujichagulia, ujima, ujamaa, nia, kuumba and imani), it seems that while the black community continues to be smacked around by rising unemployment, failing schools and the effects of poverty, the principles (in English: Unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith) represent pretty sound tenets for African-Americans, or any group, to aspire to.

Personally, I love the sparkling Christmas lights that drape our windows and doors, and who can resist the tug of "The Little Drummer Boy" or "O Holy Night" carols that remind us of our childhood Christmases in simpler times. But I reject the shop-till-you-drop-and-spend-money-you-don't-have-for-stuff-you-don't-need mentality that overtakes the season.

For me, Kwanzaa is alive and well as it discourages outrageous spending and encourages family and community bonding while celebrating shared history and culture. So my grandsons and I are searching for our red, black and green candles to put in the kinara. Happy Kwanzaa and peace and goodwill to all.

Karen Warrington, Philadelphia