NEW YORK, Dec. 26 -- Black Americans lit the first of seven candles Tuesday to begin a week of celebrations honoring their ancestors' values and culture.
Black community leaders estimate that some 18 million people in the United States will take part in the 35th annual Kwanzaa, a feast based on Africa's traditional year-end harvest festivals. Kwanzaa is not intended to compete with or replace Christmas, which most black Americans also celebrate.
Kwanzaa is one of the most extraordinary phenomena carried over from the 1960s. Unlike other legacies of that era, it has actually taken root ever since a black studies professor, Dr. Maulana "Ron" Karenga, created it in 1966.
Karenga took the festival's name from the Swahili phrase, "matunda ya kwanza," meaning, "first fruits of the harvest."
During the Kwanzaa festivities, black Americans drink from a common cup to honor their ancestors. They exchange gifts, usually educational in nature, and feast on traditional African dishes and ingredients brought by the slaves from their homelands.
Black pride is the festival's principal theme. Homes, churches and community centers are decorated in green, black and red, the colors chosen by Jamaican-born black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey for his movement.
Black represents the color of the people. Green recalls Africa's fertile lands whence their ancestors had been taken as slaves. Red reminds revelers of the blood that has been shed in the fight for freedom. To this color scheme some add yellow, representing the sun over Africa.
During the celebrations, meals featuring traditional African dishes and ingredients brought by the slaves from their homelands to the western hemisphere are served
In the week of Kwanzaa, black Americans salute each other with the question, "Habari gani," which means "What's the news?"
There are seven answers, each representing one of the seven Kwanzaa principles -- all of them intended to strengthen the community:
1. "Umoja" (unity). This reminds Kwanzaa followers of the need to build a community that holds together.
2. "Kujichagulia" (self-determination). Black Americans are to speak for themselves and to make choices of benefit for the community.
3. "Ujima (collective work and responsibility). Members of the community are to help each other.
4. "Ujamaa" (cooperative economics). Blacks should support businesses that benefit the community.
5. "Nia" (sense of purpose). One is to set goals that benefit the community.
6. "Kuumba" (creativity). Everyone should strive to improve the community and make it more beautiful.
7. "Imani" (faith). Black Americans should believe that it is possible for their communities to create a better world now and in the future.