From December 26–January 1, several million Americans will be celebrating Kwanzaa, a "harvest festival" first proclaimed in 1966 to celebrate blessings of African heritage. How should we view this recently-devised holiday?
When U.S. President Bill Clinton began issuing official Kwanzaa proclamations in 1995, some critics responded harshly, even calling the festival "fraudulent"—an inauthentic pastiche of customs from warring regions of Africa, blended incongruously with North American harvest imagery in the dead of winter. Yet, after receiving White House recognition, Kwanzaa quickly entered the "mainstream," and millions of Americans eager to celebrate diversity accepted it as another of society's many December festivals. By 2006, President George W. Bush felt comfortable stating in his own Kwanzaa proclamation, "Forty years after the first Kwanzaa, this hopeful occasion remains an opportunity to build the bonds of family, community, and culture and move ever closer to the founding promise of liberty and justice for all."
At Kwanzaa 2009, for the first time since political activist Dr. Maulana Karenga established the holiday in 1966, the U.S. has a President of African-American ancestry. Yet President Barack Obama and his family will not be celebrating Kwanzaa. Indeed, some observers suggest that the holiday has lost much of its appeal to African-Americans just as it has entered the mainstream of American consumer culture ("Kwanzaa celebrations continue, but boom is over," Associated Press, December 17, 2009).
Are people rejecting Kwanzaa because it is a "manufactured" holiday that does not accurately reflect historical fact and tradition? If so, they should consider applying the same standard to Christmas. Religious scholars acknowledge that Jesus Christ was not born on, or anywhere near, December 25. Neither Christ nor the Apostles celebrated His birth and, for generations afterward, His birthday was neither known to nor celebrated by professing Christians. "The [Church] Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Epiphanus, contended that Christmas was a copy of a pagan celebration" ("Christianity," Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. III, p. 499).
By setting aside the time between Christmas and New Year's Day, Kwanzaa-keepers are doing just what the first Christmas-keepers did—co-opting the surrounding society's existing times of celebration. Yet it was not until the 4th century AD that most professing Christians throughout the Roman Empire began to honor December 25—a day then holy to worshipers of the false gods Mithras and Sol Invictus—as the day of Christ's birth. One Roman almanac notes a December 25, 336AD observance of Christmas, though other cities resisted the innovation for decades longer. Correspondence by Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 348–386AD) shows that as late as 385AD, the Church in Jerusalem (birthplace of biblical Christianity) was not keeping a Christmas celebration.
"But what's wrong with inventing a harvest festival that pictures a time of harmony?," you may ask. Few who observe Kwanzaa realize that God Himself gave human beings a "harvest festival" to observe. All around the world, genuine Christians—following the example of Jesus Christ and His disciples—celebrate the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles. Unlike Christmas or Kwanzaa, the date of the Feast of Tabernacles comes from Scripture (Leviticus 23:34). The Feast of Tabernacles, also called the "Feast of Ingathering," is a harvest festival (Exodus 23:16; 34:22), but unlike Kwanzaa it carries a deeper God-given meaning. God uses the Feast of Tabernacles to teach Christians about the future Kingdom of God, during which Jesus Christ, born to be a king (Luke 1:32–33), will rule all nations (Revelation 11:15). Under Christ's coming millennial rule, all the Earth will keep the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14:16–17).
During the Feast of Tabernacles, God's people reside in temporary dwellings as a reminder that they are strangers and pilgrims on Earth (Hebrews 11:13). They rejoice that under Christ's soon-coming rule, the world will be at peace and His "harvest" will encompass all human beings, not just the few who in our age have heard and responded to His message.
Billions keeping Kwanzaa or Christmas are missing out on the inspiring truth God has given in Scripture. The annual Holy Days reveal His plan for humanity with a depth not known to those who instead keep man-made holidays. To learn more, read our inspiring booklet, The Holy Days: God's Master Plan, or watch our Tomorrow's World telecast, "The Missing Message."