New Irvington Manor hosts annual Kwanzaa celebration

IRVINGTON, NJ — The New Irvington Manor hosted its third annual Community Kwanzaa at the manor on Washington Avenue on Sunday, Dec. 27, from noon to 7 p.m. The Kwanzaa holiday was founded by Maulana Karenga in 1965.

“It’s that time of year: holiday time, celebrating, closing out the old year and welcoming in the New Year real strong,” said New Irvington Manor owner Daniel Frett on Dec. 27. “This is kind of our give-back. This is a tradition we’ve been following in our family for a long time. The holidays are a time is when you share. We’re blessed enough to be able to share with our community by opening up our doors for fun, family events like this.”

Since then, many locals, including Frett and his partner, Sirett Fuller; Irvington Blue Knights Academy educator H. Ato Bakari Chase; and Natasha and Bashir Akinyele have acknowledged that Kwanzaa has grown into the premier component of the annual winter holiday season that includes more established holidays such as Christmas and Hanukkah.

Chase participated in the Dec. 27 ceremony at the New Irvington Manor by symbolically pouring out the libation that is part of the ritual. He, Frett, Fuller the Akinyeles and the other speakers at the event said the key to the holiday’s continued growth in popularity lies in assimilating the seven principles of Kwanzaa into believers’ daily lives and routines.

“Those principles are also proactive,” Brother B.T. Mathis from Roselle, who presided at the Kwanzaa event at the New Irvington Manor, said Monday, Dec. 14. “It is something that we have to live by all year long. Kwanzaa is about family, community and culture.”

According to the website, Karenga created the word “Kwanzaa” by combining two words from the Swahili language spoken in parts of Africa: the word ‘kwanza,” meaning “first,” and “kuzaa,” meaning “to bear or produce,” as with crops or childbirth. The word “Kwanzaa” does not exist in the Swahili language.

Mathis discussed the historical background of the holiday and the meaning and purpose of the seven principles, also known as the “Nguzo Saba,” at the event at the New Irvington Manor. According to Karenga, the seven principles are: Umoja or unity and an effort to strive to maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race; Kujichagulia or self-determination; Ujima or collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa or cooperative economics and maintaining businesses and profiting from them together; Nia or purpose and community development; Kuumba or creativity; and Imani or faith.

“It’s not only a principle, but it’s a practice,” Mathis said Dec. 27.
Kwanzaa utilizes candles and a candleholder similar to the Hanukkah menorah. This kinara holds seven candles — three red, one black and three green — that symbolize the colors of the pan-African movement from the late 1960s and the colors of the African-American flag. One candle per day is lit during the course of a week, from Dec. 26 through Dec. 31.

“Today, we light the red candle,” Mathis said on the second day of Kwanzaa. “When Dr. Karenga had brothers coming from all over the country to study, you had a brother out of Newark who came back in 1967 and started the Unified Committee of Newark. And, at that time, we held our first Kwanzaa. We had no idea it would continue.”

But Mathis warned the audience that the future of Kwanzaa is in danger because it has become popular among people of color who don’t have a connection to the movements from which it originated. He said the danger is that the holiday might become watered down to the point that it becomes reduced to an economic tool and more about gift-giving than celebrating the seven principles.

“We have to be careful that Kwanzaa does not become what Dr. King Day has become — an occasion to stay home from work or take a trip to the beach. If you want to make this thing be free, then you have to make it live, starting on Dec. 26. There are seven principles that we are supposed to live by all year long. I would hope that you guys make a commitment to start something based on one of these seven principles, then check in next year to see if you have lived up to it,” Mathis said.