At my family's Kwanzaa, we don't drink from the unity cup but pour a small libation into it and leave it on the center of the table. We use freestanding candles instead of a kinara. That may change, however, with this coming Kwanzaa, or the Kwanzaa after that. It took several years for me even to feel comfortable saying, "Happy Kwanzaa." But I think that is only natural. Any holiday, together with its rituals, derives its symbolic and social power from its cultural context. It takes time for a cultural context to crystallize. It's easy for someone to devise a holiday from on high, but it takes time for the buzz to develop, and for people to find out if, and how, their neighbors are celebrating.

I always remind myself--and my family--that celebrating Kwanzaa is not an end in itself. Like wearing kente cloth hats or giving our children African names, newly created rites should remind us of our collective strength and of the fact that this strength is manifest only through individual effort. The seven Kwanzaa principles aren't just part of a ritual but a set of practical tools for helping us live our African-American cultural ideals throughout the year. That is why I've decided, even though I'm not much for holidays, to make a place for Kwanzaa on my end-of-the-year calendar.

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