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Each December, high atop the choir loft of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in Dallas, sit the traditional three purple and one pink Advent candles for several Sundays.

But as the month comes to a close, another candelabra appears when the Kwanzaa kinara — with its seven black, red, and green candles representing principles of black heritage — is placed on the altar below.

"We'll light the Advent candles and we'll light the Kwanzaa candles," said the Rev. Tyrone Gordon, pastor of St. Luke, where stained glass windows depict the civil rights movement. "Both have prominent places. The Advent candle, of course, is higher up and that's symbolic because we're Christian."

At some predominantly black churches, celebrating Christmas and Kwanzaa is a matter of both/and instead of either/or. Some congregations, especially those with an Afrocentric emphasis, mark both holidays, singing carols about Jesus and reflecting on Kwanzaa's principles of unity and collective responsibility throughout December.

But some Christians say Christmas should be the sole holiday at year's end because Kwanzaa lacks a clear biblical message.

Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a California State University professor of black studies. The seven principles it highlights are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

Writing in a 40th anniversary message last year, Karenga explained that the last point — faith — is not related to a particular religion: "It is a faith founded in the ancient ethical and spiritual teachings of our ancestors, forged in struggle, and reaffirmed in the reality of everyday life directed toward doing good in the world," ...

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December 2007

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