It’s the holiday season again, and that means so many different things to so many different people. You’ve got Christmas, Hanukkah, and as of the 1960’s, Kwanzaa as well. What is this last holiday mentioned? And how can it too be celebrated in the utmost of cannabis style? Read on to learn more about Kwanzaa, and the best ways to celebrate it cannabis-style.
A little about Kwanzaa
Not every holiday goes back thousands of years. Some of our most important holidays, are actually brand-spanking new. Take Kwanzaa, for example. This wintertime holiday has its roots in different African harvest traditions, but was only put together in the past hundred years, with its first year of observance in 1966. It begins on December 26th each year, and ends on January 1st. Each of the seven days is represented by an idea: unity, self-determination, work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
America has a checkered history that involves taking the darker skinned from their homes in Africa, and enslaving them in America. Of course, when you displace people from their homes, you also displace them from their known families and heritage, meaning America is now a country with a large part of its population that only knows its history going back to enslavement. As people were taken from many different parts of Africa, this creates a sort of muddled and non-specific culture in the US. And for the most part, particular histories are all but lost.
As a way to sort of combat this loss of culture, Maulana Karenga, an American activist and professor from Maryland, created the holiday in 1966. Karenga has a long history as an activist, going back to the Black Panthers of the 1960’s, as well as the Congress of Racial Equality and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1966, he created Kwanzaa as a Pan African holiday, a term that refers to creating a sense of brotherhood among all Africans, whether in Africa, or beyond.
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Kwanzaa was created following the Watts riots, which took place in Los Angeles in 1965. The riots, which started with the traffic stop and sobriety test of 21 year-old Marquette Frye, grew and went on, bolstered by claims of police brutality, and possible rumors of a pregnant lady getting kicked. In the end, the riots caused $40 million in damaged property, resulted in 34 deaths, and required 14,000 of the California Army National Guard to suppress.
The 1960’s was a turbulent time in terms of civil rights, and cities like LA still had enormously racist laws in place. Like, residential segregation, which kept people of color from renting in certain areas. Such injustices created resentment, which boiled over with the Frye arrest on August 11th of 1965.
As a way to bring the community together in the aftermath, Karenga created Kwanzaa, saying he wanted to “give blacks an alternative to the existing holiday of Christmas and give blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” The term comes from a Swahili phrase: matunda ya kwanza, which translates to “first fruits”. Southern Africa is the home of different First Fruit festivals that take place in the winter, as a part of the Southern Solstice.
In the beginning, Kwanaa offered the black community a different approach to Christmas from the general white version. It actually had an anti-Christmas feel at that point, which was replaced by a more accepting attitude as the holiday picked up speed, and practicing Christians became interested. Today, while specific numbers are hard to find, according to an AP-NORC survey from 2019, approximately 3% of America celebrates the holiday. Its most well known visual is a candelabra with three green candles to the right, three red to the left, and a black one in the middle.
Kwanzaa and cannabis
Kwanaa originated when cannabis was already banned. Since the holiday didn’t exist prior to 1966, it doesn’t have any weed-related history. The different cultures that play into Kwanzaa may or may not have some tradition involving cannabis, but Kwanzaa is not specifically known for this. Luckily, like any other holiday, it can be combined well with marijuana.
Kwanzaa is a gift giving holiday. Gifts are generally given on the last day, January 1st, among family members, and are meant to have some kind of traditional inspiration. Said Karenga in his book Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, children should be the primary gift recipients, gifts should be based on commitments made and kept, and that they shouldn’t be excessive. He went on that a standard gift should be something like a book and a symbol from heritage.
None of this specifically supports or excludes cannabis. Meaning there is certainly nothing about the religion that is anti-cannabis, but that cannabis wasn’t necessarily a thought when the holiday was created. As such, those interested in putting the two together, can certainly do so.
Whether it’s a well-meaning smoke-out session along with some discussion about African history, or the inclusion of a joint as a book marker in an African art history book gift. One of the things we know about cannabis, is that it makes already cool things, even cooler.
Celebrating Kwanzaa, cannabis-style
There are a few ways that the principals of Kwanzaa work well with weed. For example, to celebrate ‘unity’ on the first day, a unity cup is passed around. What’s another thing we can load with a mind-altering substance and pass around? A bong! This Kwanzaa, pass a bong around with your friends to represent unity. Not so into bongs? The beauty of a smoke-up circle is that it brings a group together. And it doesn’t matter if you’re passing around a bong, a joint, a spliff, a pipe, or a vape. The point is that you share it as a community, and get high together.
Or, perhaps Kwanzaa is a time to check in with the grass roots organizations that help promote suppressed cultures. Like Minority Cannabis Business Association, which works to equalize the playing field for black communities in the cannabis business world.
Or, Cage Free Cannabis, an organization that is based around fixing the injustices to the black community caused by the war on drugs. Supporting these organizations is a great way to celebrate Kwanzaa and African heritage, by helping to promote black operators in the cannabis industry, and legislation that helps to erode past discrimination.
Not only does that qualify as helping the community and promoting unity, but it also promotes the ideas of self-determination in business, work and responsibility, and purpose. These organizations bring together the holiday of Kwanzaa, with the idea of helping to promote the same population in moving forward in the world of cannabis.
If you want to get creative, or be one with nature, check out these ways to smoke out of the earth, or earth-made constructs. Creativity is a part of Kwanzaa, and something to be celebrated with a whole day geared toward it. You can be super creative about the way you smoke, while also keeping it nature-based. Plus, if you want to start thinking about faith, another idea with a day earmarked for it, well, what better way to do that, than with a good smoke?
The holiday is a time for reflection and community-building, for working on oneself, and doing nice things for other people. And it’s also about joy and celebration as well. Why not take a little toke of something that makes you joyful? The holiday season in general should be about putting smiles on faces, regardless of which holiday is celebrated.
For a holiday that started less than a hundred years ago, Kwanzaa developed a pretty decent following. And for good reason. It speaks of bringing together a community that was torn apart so badly that many have no idea where they’re from. Whether Kwanzaa will continue to grow, or die off, remains to be seen, but for now, it offers yet another way to celebrate the holiday season, for stoners and non-stoners alike. No matter how you celebrate this year, do so with love, openness, kindness, and acceptance for all.
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