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Local church spreads the word about Kwanzaa

December 26, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART

Harambee! Harambee! The celebration of Kwanzaa has begun.

The seven days of Kwanzaa began Saturday across the country and begins a day later in Hagerstown.

"This is the third year we've had Kwanzaa at Asbury United Methodist Church," said Debbie Shrader, church member and Kwanzaa instructor for community children.

Kwanzaa, the Swahili word for first, is a celebration that was created in the mid-1960s following the devastating riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles. The celebration was conceived as a way to instill unity and a sense of pride in people of African heritage.

"Usually Kwanzaa is held in the homes but I wanted to introduce it to my parishioners this year," said Anthony Carr, Asbury's pastor.

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So Carr will be using the Kwanzaa theme at the 8:30 and 11 a.m. service today in his church.

It is a festive occasion, a special time spent with family and friends.

"The lighting of the unity candle marks the first night of Kwanzaa on Dec. 26," Carr said.

The theme of unity is characterized by the call "Harambee," which in Swahili means "Let's pull together."

Shrader said she will have Kwanzaa events in her home through the week of celebrations.

Traditionally, the second day's theme is self-determination.

The watchwords for the third day's celebration are collective work and responsibility.

Additional themes are cooperative economics and purpose, creativity and finally, faith.

Each evening, one candle is lighted in a seven-candle display. A black candle in the center is lighted first to represent unity. Candles of red and green are lighted from left to right as the celebrations progress, Carr said.

While the traditional colors are red and green, all bright colors exemplify the holiday.

Shrader sees Kwanzaa as a way to get children into positive thinking.

"I teach life skills and self-esteem to the youngsters throughout the year," Shrader said, noting that Kwanzaa fits right in.

The celebration includes singing and exchange of handmade gifts.

At the church, each child will receive a Kwanzaa figure to keep, Carr said.

The scope and popularity of Kwanzaa has been growing in the community and in the country, Shrader said.

But she and Carr both said they were unable to obtain Kwanzaa postal stamps in Hagerstown this year despite the fact that they are issued each year.

"Maybe someday the post offices will get the message," Shrader said.

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