(December 26 to January 1)
To experience the evolution of a cultural holiday is a rare event not often seen in most lifetimes. Like sensing the shifting but steady change of light in a total eclipse of the sun, we are coming into the brighter light of Kwanzaa. This African-American holiday was first created just thirty years ago and over time has spread to become a welcome tradition among those of African heritage.
Despite its awareness among the literati and the scholars, Kwanzaa is still not widely observed across all audiences. Many African-Americans have heard the name but know little of the traditions and cultural aspects of Kwanzaa. Yet, Kwanzaa has really gone mainstream, in the sense that it has attracted a good deal of media attention. There are no less than three books on Kwanzaa and their recipes have been released from major publishers.
Kwanzaa is the African American cultural celebration that occurs between Christmas and New Years Day. While it is not founded on religion, it does bear a strong spiritual base in the sense that it emphasizes thought and meditation on seven key principles. And with all holidays, food and cooking become a focal point on which the customs and rituals revolve.
In this area, we present some dishes from two recent releases on Kwanzaa, as well as other background materials. One release not featured in this section but worthy of note is "Kwanzaa: An African-American Celebration of Culture and Cooking," by Eric Copage. This is an admirable introduction to the holiday with a primary focus on recipes of African heritage. Indeed, there are numerous approaches to observing Kwanzaa, and the foods of the celebration are as varied and rich as the history and breadth of African-American culture itself.
Of the books we do spotlight herein, Jessica B. Harris' "A Kwanzaa Keepsake" takes a contemporary and decidedly international look at dishes shared by her present family and at one time by her ancestors. The book is organized into fun and creative learning devices: profiles on famous black leaders, "Projects" which can be used by the whole family to explore their culture, and over fifty recipes organized into menus for each of the seven days of Kwanzaa. She also includes blank pages for recording Family Notes and Family Recipes, a nice interactive touch. This book is an entertainment, a guide, a cookbook and a workbook all rolled charmingly into one volume that captures the joyful style in which Ms. Harris herself appears to celebrate Kwanzaa. Even in the last recipe of the book, she leaves us reflecting on Kwanzaa with a celebratory toast of champagne, raspberry and oranges. Clearly, Ms. Harris takes a most constructive, upbeat and positive approach to this unique holiday.
In "The Complete Kwanzaa: Celebrating Our Cultural Harvest," Dorothy Winbush Riley also explains the customs and background of Kwanzaa, using profiles ranging from that of Bill and Camille Cosby to Martin Luther King, Jr. Currently an elementary school principal in Detroit, Ms. Riley packs her book with a bevy of poems, verse, quotations and parables, all very well written and illustrating the lessons of Kwanzaa and community. Even Michael Jordan shares some inspirational words that, like the rest of the book, have strong messages which are significant in and of themselves. While this book has fewer recipes than the others, it contains a wider breadth of creative expressions, and the recipes and menus it does present are aptly focused on the Karamu Feast held on the last night of Kwanzaa, December 31.
Look futher for excerpts about Kwanzaa and for a suggested Kwanzaa meal using a combination of recipes from "A Kwanzaa Keepsake" and "The Complete Kwanzaa."
- A Kwanzaa Keepsake
- About the Origins of Kwanzaa
- Daily Guide for Observing Kwanzaa
- The Complete Kwanzaa
- The Seventh Night of Kwanzaa: Imani
- Caramelized Ripe Plantains
- Chicken Yassa
- Herbed Cornbread
- Mixed Greens
- Odessa's Candied Yams
- Pickled Black-Eyed Peas
- Seafood Gumbo
This page created December 1998; modified November 2006