So you think the Denver Zoo, 2300 Steele Street, is an unusual place to celebrate Kwanzaa? According to Patrick Phelan, the zoo's events manager, "Culture is an important part of protecting animals." Although Kwanzaa is largely an African-American holiday, it's derived from several African harvest, or "first fruit" celebrations, which ties it in with the zoo's newest and biggest exhibit: Predator Ridge, home to fourteen species of indigenous African animals. "Protecting animals isn't just about preservation; it's also about understanding the culture and the people living by these animals," notes Phelan. As an adjunct to this month's ongoing Zoo Lights display, the Conoco Pavilion will host Kwanzaa at Zoo Lights, beginning today and continuing through December 30; the program includes three nightly performances of traditional African dance with Michael Jjuuko and the Jjuuko Cultural Troupe, storytellers focusing on African life and heritage, and a hands-on arts-and-crafts lesson that will teach your kids (and you, if you're into it) how to make a Kwanzaa mat. The presentation starts at 5 p.m.; admission for non-members ranges from $4 to $7.

And if that isn't enough dancing, drumming and storytelling for one day, then celebrate with the Kwanzaa Committee of Denver and their 40th Anniversary of Kwanzaa. Starting tonight at 7 p.m., march along with the Drumming and Pamoja Parade to the Grand Kinara Lighting at the corner of 26th and Welton Streets. One of seven candles — corresponding to the seven principles of the holiday — on the twelve-foot Kinara will be lit. Afterward, enjoy six days and nights of Kwanzaa, starting with A Handmade Life III, an art exhibit at the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library. In addition, the Pauline Robinson Branch, the Ford-Warren Branch and the Montbello Branch of the Denver Public Library will all offer Kwanzaa activities, including crafts, food and live performers. For more information on time and prices, march to, call the Kwanzaa Committee at 303-371-4793 or check out
Dec. 26-30, 5-9 p.m.

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Mark Dragotta