Who Actually Celebrates Kwanzaa?

The results of a reader poll suggest that the holiday may be past its prime.


A lone Christmas tree on a makeshift pedestal stands prominently in the center of Howard University’s main quadrangle, which is uncharacteristically empty during the first week of December. Students rush by to make it to their exams on time, with the tree serving as a reminder of the holiday traditions that await them after their last final. But for one Howard student, this evergreen emblem doesn’t represent the true essence of the holiday spirit.

“My mother, she was very hard on trying to make us celebrate Kwanzaa. She felt that it was more important than Christmas,” Howard student Jasper Henderson told The Root. “Kwanzaa has more definition of life — Christmas is just presents.”

Not everyone feels the same as Henderson and his mom. According to an unscientific poll of 472 of The Root‘s readers, only 35 percent of respondents currently observe Kwanzaa, an African-American holiday based on seven principles that is celebrated over the last week of the year. Half of all respondents have participated in such celebrations at least once in their lives.

Kwanzaa, a holiday created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, black nationalist and current chair of Africana studies at California State University, Long Beach, seems to resonate most with the baby boomer generation and may be past its prime.

In fact, almost half — 41 percent — of all respondents born between 1946 and 1964 celebrate Kwanzaa, while those born in or before 1945 and in or after 1982 are least likely to celebrate the holiday. What’s more, those born before 1945 are least likely to know someone who celebrates Kwanzaa, while those between the ages of 46 and 64 are most likely to know someone who celebrates the holiday.

“Kwanzaa’s different from any other holiday because you sit down and you discuss a lot of things that happened in the past in relation to your family history. You go back to the struggle that you’ve been through,” baby boomer Joe Brooks told The Root when asked about why he observes the holiday.

“You really have to take time out and stress to the young kids what’s really going on, what it actually means. It’s not just a holiday to celebrate. You celebrate, but you don’t celebrate it with gifts; you celebrate it as a history thing to make you more aware.”