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."
However, most respondents knew the story behind Kwanzaa. Overall, only about 4 percent of respondents did not know that Kwanzaa was created by an American in the '60s.
Howard student Dominique Alexis said the classroom might be the best place to teach young people about the history and tenets of the holiday. "I think that [Kwanzaa] should definitely get more recognition," she said. "We did one day of Kwanzaa [in high school], where we would watch a movie. So I think if we started out early, [Kwanzaa] would become more prevalent."
Age wasn't the only factor in the responses. A little more than 5 percent of respondents were white, and 16 percent of them indicated that they currently celebrate Kwanzaa. A third of white respondents have celebrated Kwanzaa in the past.
More than two-thirds of respondents have earned at least a bachelor's degree, and the majority of those who celebrate Kwanzaa have graduated from college. Not surprisingly, respondents with college degrees were also most likely to know the origin and principles of Kwanzaa. Also, while two-thirds of all respondents were female, around a third of male respondents and a third of female respondents currently celebrate Kwanzaa.
Only 45 percent of all respondents believe that Kwanzaa is a real holiday. While thoughts on Kwanzaa's validity were split down the middle among Millennials, those born between 1965 and 1981 were most likely to not consider Kwanzaa a true holiday — even though almost a third of them celebrate the holiday themselves.
"I think it's more like an accessory holiday. It's kind of like part of the whole end-of-the-holiday-season, kind-of-complementary [holiday]," said 27-year-old Web development consultant Marcus Finley. "There are so many holidays going on. You have Hanukkah and Christmas and Kwanzaa. It's just in the season of giving and giving back — and love and family."
Joshua Weaver is The Root's editorial intern.