Sunday marked the first day of Kwanzaa, a weeklong holiday that honors African heritage, and the second year where celebration plans were disrupted with Long Island seeing record-high numbers of new COVID-19 cases in recent days.
Wilma Holmes Tootle celebrated the beginning of Kwanzaa by watching a virtual program presented by the office of Hempstead Town Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby and lighting a candle on her kinara at home.
"It's a very significant, cultural event," said Tootle, president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women’s Long Island Chapter. "I take each of the principles as lessons for life."
The word Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase meaning "first fruits." The secular holiday was created in 1966 and celebrates the seven principles of unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
Goosby’s office has organized the annual program for two decades, honoring community members for their service and presenting music and dance performances.
"COVID has caused us all to adjust to a new normal," Goosby said at the beginning of the hourlong, prerecorded program released Sunday. "After 20 years, unfortunately, we weren't able to celebrate in our traditional grand old fashion. But we’ve learned to be creative and think outside the box."
Viewers can watch a brief replay of an honoree speaking about the principle of the night at 7 p.m. on the Town of Hempstead YouTube channel, over the next six days and join each other (virtually) in the nightly candlelighting ritual.
The candle holder has one black candle in the center with three red candles to the left and three green candles to the right. The black candle represents people, the red ones their struggle and the green candles the future and hope that comes from their struggle, according to the official Kwanzaa website.
Tootle of Freeport said she plans to go online to light the candle with others, remotely but still in a communal fashion.
"When the candles are lit for the principle, I think to myself how it has influenced my life being an African American," Tootle said. "I try to practice them every day, not starting this week, but every day of the year. … I try to incorporate those principles into my life because I find that each one is life-enhancing."
On Dec. 31, honoree Charmise Desiré of Uniondale will be featured in the virtual presentation on creativity.
"Even as the year ends, let your creativity roll over into the new year and allow it to be a catalyst to do some great things in the new year," said Desiré, a Uniondale school board member. "That's what it means to me personally."
The Village of Hempstead, along with local organization Operation Get Ahead, will host a virtual Kwanzaa celebration from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. For more information, visit the village website.