Photo illustration by GMG/The Root; image via iStock/

... On the fifth day of Kwanzaa, P-Nut gave to meeeee: Fiiive keeeente clooooths! Four calling cards, three French braids, 20-inch dubs and an African print dashikiiii!

Pardon me, I was just practicing my Kwanzaa carols.

But this does raise an important question about Kwanzaa. In our quest to #MakeKwanzaaGreatAgain, have we overlooked an important element of Kwanzaa? Although Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday that is supposed to reject capitalism, how important are the presents? More important—is there a Kwanzaa Claus?

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First of all, his name is not Kwanzaa Claus. He has a traditional African name: P-Nut.

Second, P-Nut is not a fictional character. While most black children have never met a man named “Santa,” we all know a P-Nut, whether his moniker derives from an oddly shaped head, the first letter of his name or from a lack of stature in the hood. In black America, P-Nut is as ubiquitous as Mary or John.

When P-Nut knocks on your door to deliver your Kwanzaa gift, joy and happiness ensues. (After being shot in the leg by Jo-Jo Robinson during a 1983 delivery on the East Side of St. Louis, P-Nut stopped doing the chimney thing.) But which presents are Kwanzaa-appropriate? Tradition says that Kwanzaa presents should be low-cost, creative and—if possible—something made by the giver of the gift. They are also supposed to exemplify the Kwanzaa principle of the day on which they are given.

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We thought we’d give you some suggestions for when P-Nut rings your doorbell, leaves your gifts and disappears in a trail of incense smoke. (I know it smells a little like marijuana, but trust me, it’s incense!)

Umoja (Unity)

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Aluminum foil: Nothing defines unity like a black cookout; and—as anyone who has ever attended a black barbecue can attest—you can never have enough aluminum foil at a black gathering.

Church fan: You know black people draw heat. I don’t even know what scientific theory that statement is based on; I just know it is an accepted fact. When we finally unite as a people, white people better worry about reciprocity. Black people, on the other hand, better staple some pieces of cardboard to Popsicle sticks or hit up the local funeral home, because when we achieve Umoja, it’s going to be hot as fuck.

Kind of Blue: Because of streaming services, the internet and YouTube, I don’t know if you can still even purchase music for another person. It doesn’t matter. If you love someone, no matter their age or taste in music, let them listen to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Steal it if you must. 

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Not only is this album spectacular, but it is the essence of Umoja. When Miles Davis recorded Kind of Blue, he was joined by some of the best jazz artists of all time, including the greatest musician to ever put his mouth on a musical instrument. If there is a God, he has definitely walked among us.

His name is John Coltrane, and he united with Miles Davis on the greatest album ever recorded. Not the greatest jazz album—the greatest sound recording in the history of sound recordings.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)

Demonstrators put their fists in the air as a sign of “black power” during a protest against police brutality and the death of Freddie Gray outside a police station in Baltimore on April 22, 2015. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Bootstraps: I love boots of all kinds—Timberlands, dress boots, Army boots, Puss in Boots. Even with my love of shoes that embrace my ankles, I have no idea what bootstraps are. I just know that white people and black Republicans swear by their self-determinative properties. I have never seen a bootstrap, but I know that if you are poor, you can grab a pair of them and, somehow, tugging on them will make you successful. I don’t quite know how it works because I’ve never seen a Foot Locker with a bootstrap section. I bet you can find them on Amazon.com, though.

Or ask P-Nut.

The Black Book: This book is almost impossible to find. But you may be able to buy it from someone else who owns it, which makes it the perfect Kwanzaa gift. It used to be a staple in a lot of black homes, and I don’t know how to describe it except that it is a combination of an almanac, history book and Bible: The Amazon description reads:

Seventeenth-century sketches of Africa as it appeared to marauding European traders. Nineteenth-century slave auction notices. Twentieth-century sheet music for work songs and freedom chants. Photographs of war heroes, regal in uniform. Antebellum reward posters for capturing runaway slaves. An 1856 article titled “A Visit to the Slave Mother Who Killed Her Child.”

In 1974, Middleton A. Harris and Toni Morrison led a team of gifted, passionate collectors in compiling these images and nearly 500 others into one sensational narrative of the black experience in America: The Black Book. Prominent collectors Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, and Ernest Smith, as well as Middleton Harris and Toni Morrison (then a Random House editor, now a two-time Pulitzer Prize—winning Nobel laureate) spent months studying, laughing at, and crying over these materials—from transcripts of fugitive slaves’ trials and proclamations by Frederick Douglass and other celebrated abolitionists to chilling images of cross burnings and lynchings, patents registered by black inventors throughout the early twentieth century to vibrant posters from “Black Hollywood” films from the 1930s and 1940s.

A labor of love and a vital link to the richness and diversity of African American history and culture, The Black Book honors the past, reminding us where our nation has been, and gives flight to our hopes for what is yet to come. Beautifully and faithfully presented, and featuring a new Foreword and original poem by Toni Morrison, The Black Book remains a timeless landmark work.

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I have two copies, but you can’t have mine.

You better ask P-Nut.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)

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Seeds: Do black people still garden? Why not? All it takes is a little bit of dirt and a few seeds. If we build our community, how are we going to feed it? Making something grow out of the dirt is the most rewarding thing a human being can do. Not only can it sustain us, but it is also how P-Nut gets his “incense.”

A camera: White people often wonder why black people don’t take personal responsibility and why we blame everything on racism. When they hear about police brutality, they will ask, “What about black-on-black crime?” They really want to know why we don’t focus on conservative values like family and education. A camera could erase this entire line of questions.

The next time you are faced with these queries, simply pull out your Polaroid and show the photos you snapped of the Stop the Violence rallies, meetings and protests that grossly outnumber the Black Lives Matter marches they fear so much. Give them a picture of the flyer for a black charity, organization or nonprofit dedicated to reducing crime, mass incarceration or juvenile delinquency. Show them video of conversations about the black family or clips of 16-year-olds being accepted to Harvard. To do any of this, you’re going to need a camera.

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Tell them that the reason they don’t hear us address black-on-black crime or other issues is that we aren’t talking to them. When you clear that up, ask them if they’re ready to talk about white supremacy. They won’t be, but it never hurts to ask.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

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Dominoes: Dominoes is basically a lesson in community economics. You must know how to count. You must save the big five for the biggest opportunity. You must invest your dominoes with other players to make opportunity “knock.” You are required to know economic principles like “gimme my money” and “if you’re scared, say you’re scared.”

If you “score” enough points, you will build a “house.” The person with the most “houses” wins. If you don’t know you scored, someone else will “take your money.” Dominoes is Ujamaa.

A gift certificate to a black-owned business: We should only shop at African-American-owned businesses during Kwanzaa. And on days that end in “y.”

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I know what you’re thinking: “But sometimes the service is bad or they are always out of stock.” I have come to believe that this is a unique form of self-hate among us. When the cashier at Walmart has a shitty attitude, or when the ice cream machine at McDonald’s is broken, no one says, “I swear, these white-owned businesses need to get it together.” (I have also come to believe that McDonald’s ice cream never really existed. It’s just a ruse to get you in the door.) As a matter of fact, Kwanzaa gifts should only be purchased from black-owned businesses.

Except for bootstraps. Only white people sell them.

Nia (Purpose)

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An empty box: They say the best things in life are free because they are. Give someone a box and tell them to think outside it. Talk about the value of something besides money. Tell someone that money doesn’t equal happiness and break them out of the toxic “get money” mindset. Do some free shit. Dance. Learn how to play spades. Make yourself a nice set of handmade bootstraps. The collection of coins or property is not a purpose. It is a sickness.

Also ... why don’t you know how to play spades?

Air Jordans or Yeezys: No, hear me out. The narrative that black people could do a lot more if we didn’t buy Jordans is the biggest piece of bullshit ever uttered. I think everyone should own a pair of Jordans, red bottoms or something unnecessary if they can afford them. We all deserve nice things. Plus—fuck those guys, it is Kwanzaa!

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If black people pooled all of our money together, Congress would just pass a law making it illegal for a dollar to circulate more than two times in the black community. If we stopped buying expensive clothes, white people would still be racist.

Fuck being oppressed in ugly shoes.

Kuumba (Creativity)

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Kwanzaa cards: Buy a set of really black, revolutionary cards. Preferably some with photos of Malcolm X or the Black Panthers on the front. In each card, write something really radical, like:

“The first lesson a revolutionary must learn is that he is a doomed man.”

—Huey Newton

Then take the cards and pass them out to your white friends and co-workers when everyone is exchanging Christmas cards, and say, “Happy Kwanzaa.”

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Trust me, this is one of the best gifts on this list.

A line dance: I’m not talking about the Wobble, the Cupid Shuffle or the Electric Slide. I mean your own personalized, private line dance.

Have you ever been to a club or party and seen two or three people doing an intricate set of steps that no one else seems to know? I know it looks corny, but have you ever noticed that those people look happy as fuck? Do you know where those people learn those line dances?

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Kwanzaa.

Yep, those people celebrate the art of Kwanzaa choreography. It started long ago in a land far away—Rhythm Nation 1814. It goes by many names, including line dancing, stepping, majoretting and even praise dancing. It all comes from Kwanzaa. Give the gift of happiness.

Imani (Faith)

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Kwanzaa is weird.

It is weird because it is a new holiday and because it is a black holiday. Do not let this deter you. Have faith that your cultural tradition is as valid as anyone else’s. Here’s a list of some:

  1. an October holiday celebrating a genocidal, colonizing rapist beloved by Italian Americans who “discovered” a place where people already lived
  2. a March holiday where people assault you when you’re not wearing the right color and puke green beer into your lap at the end of the night
  3. a December holiday celebrating the birth of a child born in April to a mother who was impregnated by an invisible spirit
  4. a seven-day celebration at the end of one year and the beginning of another that specifically focuses on the values you should embody for the entire year

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Which one seems stupider?

You can’t give anyone faith, but when you hear P-Nut knocking, let him in and give him the traditional Swahili greeting of “Habari Gani?” He might respond, “Mahatma Gandhi,” but you know P-Nut be gone off that incense and tired from pulling up bootstraps all day.

Just use this guide to #MakeKwanzaaGreatAgain!