In a classroom at the Baltimore Museum of Art yesterday, strangers sat next to each other making dolls using brown cotton gloves stuffed with polyester fiber filling and boxes of assorted beads, ribbons, yarn and pieces of cloth during a crafts workshop celebrating Kwanzaa.
That so many people would sit elbow-to-elbow around small tables for such an exercise perfectly captured the spirit of the African-American event, said museum teacher Marjorie Anderson.
"Today is the fourth day of Kwanzaa," which represents cooperative economics, Anderson said. "And if you look around this room you see people you would never think would take time to make a doll. But this togetherness represents a sense of community."
There was also artwork, music, dancing and storytelling yesterday as the museum held its seventh Kwanzaa Family Day Celebration.
In most years, the Kwanzaa celebration has been the museum's primary African-American event. But this year, the Kwanzaa celebration is part of the museum's African Spirit Series, which will include an African art exhibit and an African film festival next month.
Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday that promotes self-knowledge, family and community. It is celebrated each year from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 and is considered an annual lesson on history and ancestry.
"Our children need to be able to come to events like this and learn about their culture," said Cynthia DeJesus, president of the Jack and Jill of America Baltimore County chapter, an organization for African-American children.
She brought about 20 children to yesterday's event. "If we don't teach them, who will?"
Kwanzaa is a Swahili word meaning "first fruits" of harvest. But while the Kwanzaa celebration is said to have its roots in the traditions and cultures of African tribes of many generations past, the event wasn't recognized in America until the mid-1960s.
That's when a graduate student named Maulana Karenga - later the chairman of the department of black studies at California State University, Long Beach - researched those African tribes and began promoting Kwanzaa, a weeklong festival for African-Americans.
But while Kwanzaa has grown to be a widely known and respected holiday-time tradition alongside Christmas and Hanukkah, most African-Americans do not practice the seven-day ritual, though each year more are said to be doing so.
Kwanzaa rituals include assigning a principle for each of the seven days. In order, they are: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith).
Each day one candle resting in a kinara, a candleholder, is lighted, representing the principle for the day.
Other traditions include dress - women in long colorful robes and elaborate, matching headdresses and men in colorful shirts. And there are Africa-inspired meals that might include okra, black-eyed peas and pig's feet.
And no Kwanzaa celebration is complete without a beat.The Balafon West African Dance Ensemble performed yesterday to a capacity audience in the museum's Meyerhoff Auditorium.
"The seven principles are each for family and to see people come out and hear our stories and bring their children is very important," said storyteller Eslyn Hinmon, president of the Griot Circle of Maryland.