Twas The Night Before Kwanzaa

By Chuck Colson

It’s that time of year again. Holiday greetings arrive in the mail. Mom starts baking special foods. Pajama-clad kiddies snuggle up to their parents to hear that beloved old poem: ” ‘Twas the Night before Kwanzaa.” That’s right, I said Kwanzaa. For those of you unfamiliar with this December holiday, Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration of African-American family and culture. 

But while Kwanzaa is promoted as a non-religious cultural event, a closer look reveals that this festival combines a hodgepodge of practices and seems designed to be a direct competitor of Christmas. That’s not surprising when you know that Maulana Karenga, who designed Kwanzaa from scratch in the late 1960s, is himself hostile to Christianity. 

Once a leader of a violent black nationalist group, Karenga is now a professor at California State University at Long Beach. His ideas for Kwanzaa were drawn from African harvest celebrations. The word “kwanzaa” itself is a Swahili word meaning “first fruits.” In other words, Kwanzaa isn’t some traditional African ritual as school kids—including my own grandchild—are being taught. 

Karenga invented it. Beginning on December 26, millions of Americans will light daily Kwanzaa candles and feast on African-derived foods. They’ll celebrate the seven principles of Kwanzaa, including unity, creativity, and cooperative economics. 

This year, even the U.S. Postal Service got into the act, honoring the holiday with a stamp featuring a family garbed in African clothing, next to Kwanzaa candles and a basket of food. Now, on the surface there’s nothing wrong with this. But a closer look reveals a darker, spiritual side to Kwanzaa. The Los Angeles Times describes Kwanzaa as “a time of reverence to the Creator.” But its not clear who that creator is. 

Celebrants drink from a Kwanzaa “unity cup” to “honor ancestors and promote the spirit of oneness”—a theme hauntingly similar to the religion of Shinto. And the lighting of Kwanzaa candles over a seven-day period might have been borrowed from the Jewish Hanukkah tradition. Kwanzaa promoters insist the festival is non-religious and should not be viewed as a rival to Christmas. But that’s exactly what Kwanzaa is. 

The New York Times acknowledges that Kwanzaa was designed as “an African-American alternative to Christmas.” The same story reveals that many blacks do feel that “the only way they [can] be true to the spirit… of Kwanzaa [is] by abandoning all the trappings and traditions of Christmas.” Of course, they’re not really abandoning them: They’re reshaping them into aspects of the Kwanzaa festival. Kwanzaa celebrants exchange gifts and holiday greeting cards. 

Authors Edward and Harriet Cox Robinson have even penned a rap-style poem called: ” ‘Twas the Night Before Kwanzaa.” What famous poem does that remind you of? No Christian church should be a part of a substitute for Christmas. But secular news reports suggest that some black churches have embraced Kwanzaa. 

Spencer Perkins, editor of Urban Family magazine, argues that Christians can celebrate Kwanzaa—but warns that they must find ways to do so that don’t violate Christian principles. Well, maybe—but beware. Yes, the black church ought to find ways to celebrate their rich cultural heritage. But all of us—black and white—should remember that our Lord is a jealous God… one who commands us to worship Him alone.

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