AS THE SOLSTICE watchers celebrate the return of longer days and Christians celebrate Christmas, many African-Americans will also mark the beginning of Kwanzaa, the cultural festival that summons a rich history of black culture dating back to African harvests.
The seven-day event, Dec. 26-Jan. 1, was created 25 years ago by black nationalist Maulana Ron Karenga to celebrate black cultural heritage. Kwanzaa emphasizes seven Swahili principles of tradition and reason: Umoja, or unity; Kujichagulia, self-determination; Ujima, collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, cooperative economics; Nia, purpose; Kuumba, creativity; and Imani, faith.
This year's largest local celebration, hosted by The Kwanzaa Committee of Maryland, will run from 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday in the Palladium, 2901 Liberty Heights Ave.
"Kwanzaa is an affirmation of who we are and where we come from," says Gail Kromah, one of the festival's founders and co-owner of Kromah Gallery. "All groups need to reach back in their heritage and keep hold of those things which keep them going forward."
Ernest and Gail Kromah have already established themselves as local cultural missionaries. Their former art gallery, located on Druid Hill Avenue, hosted theater performances, poetry readings and other cultural arts programs. Their new art gallery, which opens on Eutaw Street in February, will carry photography, painting, designer fashions and crafts from local and national artists.
Two years ago, the Kromahs joined other local entrepreneurs to form The Kwanzaa Committee of Maryland, an organization to raise money for the growth and development of civic, educational and business organizations in the black community.
This year's Kwanzaa celebration will include performances by the Nubian Arts Performing Society, directed by Aina Delphine Sneed; Olufumilayo and Company; the Cultural Rhythms Children; Jazziss; and The R.A.I.S.E. Youth Ensemble, directed by Bryant B. Bolling.
There will be storytelling by members of the Umoja Sasa storytelling group, Jamal Koran and griot Mary Carter Smith. Participants will also enjoy a fashion show by Black Reflections in Hair and Fashion and poetry readings by Myra Jo Arvin, Teresa Mason and Abiola Valentine.
The food includes African jolos rice, Jamaican beef patties, curried chicken, sauteed vegetables, various mixtures of nuts and fruits, carrot cakes and sweet potato pies.
Children can take part in several performances and hourly arts and crafts activities.
In addition, they can watch videos of African folk tales and other cultural tapes.
Thirty vendors from the mid-Atlantic states will sell jewelry, crafts, multi-ethnic handcrafted items and fashions.
Tickets purchased in advance are $3 and are available at Kromah Gallery, 429 Eutaw St.; CSM Print ing, 1301 N. Charles St.; Maarifa Children's Center, 3800 Gwynn Oak Ave. Tickets at the door are $4 for adults, $1 for children ages 5-12 and free to children 4 and under. For additional details about the celebration, or if you wish to volunteer, call 332-0300.