For many holiday revelers, December 26 marks the first uneventful day after a long string of yuletide festivities. For those who celebrate Kwanzaa, however, it's the beginning of a week-long celebration of family, community and culture. Started in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, chairman of the University of California at Long Beach department of African-American studies, Kwanzaa was created to preserve, revitalize and promote African-American culture. The word "kwanzaa" is derived from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means "first fruits," and the celebration builds upon the five fundamental activities of Continental African "first fruits" celebrations: gathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment and celebration.
Locally, Kwanzaa gets started with the lighting of the Grand Kinara at 6 p.m. tonight at the corner of 26th and Welton streets. Afterward, the Kwanzaa Celebration at Cafe Nuba will unfold at Kimbal Hall, 700 East 24th Avenue. Cafe Nuba, a monthly gathering for spoken word and performance art, independent film and urban beats, is devoting tonight's meeting to the holiday, with a free feast and entertainment provided by the Watoto African Dancers and Drummers, a troupe of K-8 students from the Institute for Global Scholarship. In addition, the history of Kwanzaa will be related, and prominent local elders will be inducted into the Circle of Wisdom.
"Kwanzaa is a rich, beautiful tradition that has nothing to do with your religions," says Ashara Ekundayo, executive director of the Denver Pan African Arts Society, who runs Cafe Nuba. "The principles are universal. It's an opportunity for us to engage our neighbors and explore our reciprocal relationship, a chance for people from various generations to get to hang out together and remember that we are actually a community."
Admission to the event is free, but those attending are asked to bring toiletry products to donate to the Gathering Place. "We can always use black hair-care products," Ekundayo says. "Shampoos and conditioners are great, but to a young, homeless black woman, the proper hair-care products can mean so much for her self-esteem."
For more information, call 303-832-3190 or go to www.panafricanarts.org. -- Adam Cayton-Holland
A Cuppa Holiday Cheer
Denver may be a long way from London, but you can still enjoy a most English Christmas right here in the Rockies. The Denver Center Theatre Company and the Brown Palace Hotel are pairing up to present Holiday Tea & Theatre today and tomorrow for those whose season just isn't complete without a proper dress-up affair. Bring out those newly fashionable hats and gloves and enjoy English tea at the Brown, followed by a matinee performance of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol at the Stage Theatre. There are two seatings of 100 for the traditional tea, which includes scones with Devonshire cream and preserves, savory garden sandwiches, scrumptious pastries and enough tea and hot chocolate to make Scrooge smile. Early birds will start at 11:30 a.m., while the truly English will take their cuppa after the show, at the more civilized hour of 4 p.m. Parking is provided in the arts-complex garage, where a private motor coach will pick up guests and whisk them between the Brown and the theater.
Tickets, $61 for adults and $54 for children four to eighteen, are expected to go quickly. Call 303-893-4000 for information and reservations. -- Marty McGovern
What to do? The clock is ticking down on New Year's Eve, and you're still looking for something to explode. There's not enough time for an illegal-fireworks run to Wyoming, and that little miscreant neighbor boy ran off with the last of your Independence Day stash. Well, fear not: The Downtown Denver Partnership and Western Enterprises -- the company responsible for the city's millennium extravaganza -- have plenty to go around. And we mean plenty. The Downtown Denver New Year's Eve Celebration fireworks will light up the sky above the 16th Street Mall for a full twelve minutes -- that's four minutes longer than last year. (No guarantees on how long your date will hold out, however.)
For amateur revelers, a shoot-off is scheduled for 9 p.m. Everyone else can enjoy the traditional countdown to the midnight light show. So give your charred fingers a break this year and join the rest of the city to ring in the New Year downtown. For more information, call 303-478-7878. -- Adam Cayton-Holland
A dazzling end to Christmas Day
You've opened your packages, eaten the turkey, gotten into five fights with relatives and are about to watch It's a Wonderful Life for the tenth time. It would do you good to get out of the house -- and at the same time, you can do some good. Dazzle, the great jazz club at 930 Lincoln Street (303-839-5100), has a gift for Denver on Christmas night: the first professional appearance of the Well Wishers, a musical ensemble of clients of the Wishing Well Clubhouse, a program that helps the mentally disabled get back on their feet. At a September benefit, Dazzle raised money to help the performers get started with instruments and instruction; the results will be on display in a concert starting at 6 p.m. this evening. The dozen musicians will be surrounded by artworks created by other Wishing Well regulars, which will remain on exhibit (and for sale) until the new year. "We're keeping people off the streets," says Dazzle owner and Well supporter Donald Rossa. "They're really making efforts to better themselves."
Your $15 admission buys a full holiday spread along with the show; all proceeds will go to the Well Wishers. And after the concert ends, Dazzle will continue to pour on the good cheer, staying open "until the last customer leaves," promises Rossa.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. -- Patricia Calhoun