Kwanzaa, the seven-day holiday celebrating
culture, continues to bring steady sales -- although a relatively small
percentage -- to black-owned businesses in the
Baltimore area 37 years after
it was founded by a scholar and activist in
Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of the
Black Studies Department at California State
University, founded Kwanzaa in 1966 to reaffirm the
The term "Kwanzaa" comes from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanzaa" -- meaning first fruits of the harvest. It is celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.
Celebrants reflect on the holiday's seven principles:
Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective
work and responsibility); Ujamaa (cooperative
economics); Nia (purpose); Kuumba (creativity); and
Those who celebrate the holiday spend about $70 to
purchase a mat, seven candles, a kinara to display
them in, a unity cup and ears of corn representing
participate in daily rituals, according to a price
list featured on the official Kwanzaa Web site.
Gifts, particularly educational ones, may be
exchanged, although it's not required. Because the
items to celebrate Kwanzaa are used for years, most
families do not need to spend money every year to
observe the holiday.
"The focus is on morals and values," said Chimbuko
co-vice chairwoman of the Organization Us, the holiday's Los
Angeles-based founding organization. "It's
not a time
of mass buying and selling."
But if Kwanzaa observers must buy items for
the holiday, they are encouraged to do so from
establishments in keeping with the spirit of the
holiday, Tembo said.
"We urge people to buy from black businesses,
vendors and artists or make the items themselves," she
According to the National Retail Federation in
percent of the nation's consumers will celebrate
Kwanzaa, spending an average of $852.40 during the
That money will be spent
on greeting cards, candy, food and flowers, the
Overall, the country is expected to spend $217
billion this holiday season, up 5.7 percent from last
year -- and the biggest increase since 1999.
Cards, books sell well
Few specific figures on Kwanzaa sales are available. But a cursory check around the Baltimore region found that sales have remained constant at several
Kingsley Molen, owner of Wazobia's, a gift shop in Charles Village for
10 years, said Kwanzaa sales represent about 2 percent
of his December sales.
"It's been the same [for years]," he said. "I'm
hoping this year will be different. Kwanzaa is not
promoted enough. They should get started with it
Molen added that he hoped more people purchase
Kwanzaa items from his store instead of opting for
cheaper items at big retailers.
Kmart opts out
In the 1990s, Kwanzaa gained widespread
acceptance across the country, with such big retailers
as Hallmark, Kmart and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. cashing in
relatively new holiday.
But in recent years, Kmart, has not sold Kwanzaa
"Kmart last sold items in 2001," said Angela Hood, a
for the retailer, based in Troy, Mich. "They did not
in terms of sales."
At Wal-Mart, headquartered in Bentonville, Ark.,
Kwanzaa items -- mostly cards and wrapping paper --
sold at stores with higher concentrations of
African-Americans, said spokeswoman Danette Thompson.
Thompson said she could not provide specific figures
on Wal-Mart's Kwanzaa sales.
Customers also may request items, and buyers work to
get those to them, Thompson said.
Hallmark, based in Kansas City, Mo., introduced its
first Kwanzaa card in 1992. The company has offered a
Kwanzaa line of cards and gift wrapping since 1993.
"We try to offer products for a diverse consumer
base," said Deidre Parks, a Hallmark spokeswoman.
The privately held company does not disclose sales
information, but Parks said how a product performs on
the market is just one of many
factors used to decide whether the company keeps it on
"We evaluate every year and make a decision," she
'Support our own'
Stanley Butler, branch manager for Walbrook branch
of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in West Baltimore, has celebrated Kwanzaa since the mid-1980s.
He said he doesn't disparage people who buy from other
retailers because "at least they're celebrating
But, he added, "We should always strive to support our