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Posted at 12:31 PM ET, 12/27/2010

Kwanzaa, and three other holidays in need of more attention

By Sam Sanders
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A Kwanzaa celebration at the Benjamin Banneker Museum in Catonsville, Md. (By Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

Today is the second day of Kwanzaa. But a lot of Americans might not know that, as they celebrate it in far fewer numbers than Christmas or Hanukkah.

Kwanzaa, unlike those two other holiday behemoths, got its start on a university campus, and not through any religious tradition. In 1966, Dr. Maulana Karenga, chairman of Black Studies at California State University, founded Kwaanza to "bring African-Americans together as a community." He's since changed his views on the holiday, and hopes that people of all races feel that they can take part in the celebrations.

Kwanzaa incorporates elements from different African harvest traditions. It starts the day after Christmas and runs through Jan. 1. There are seven principals celebrated each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa:

- Unity
- Self-determination
- Collective responsibility
- Cooperative economics
- Purpose
- Creativity
- Faith

There's also a special menorah celebrating those principles, called a kinara.

But in spite of the holiday's uplifting message, the opportunity of feasting for seven days and the chance to wear some pretty awesome clothes, Kwanzaa hasn't taken off. Some believe only 2 percent of African Americans actually celebrate the holiday.

It could be because there's no Kwanzaa "hero" -- no Kwanzaa Claus, no Kwaanza Jesus. There's also no tree, and no ties to religious belief. Then there's the shady history of Karenga, the holiday's founder: He went to prison after being convicted of imprisoning two female members of his Black Nationalist group and beating them with an electrical cord.

Whatever the case, Kwanzaa isn't the only American holiday in need of more love. Here are three others that live their lives in the shadow of bigger holiday cousins:

Flag Day: June 14, the anniversary of the official adoption of "The Stars and Stripes." This is supposed to be a day to celebrate the American Flag. But Flag Day seems perpetually one-upped by the Fourth of July.

The Day of Pentecost: This holiday marks the 50th day after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians believe it's then that the "Holy Spirit" descended upon the 12 Apostles in Jesus's absence. But this holy day isn't nearly as big as Easter.

Leif Erikson Day: President Obama even signed a presidential proclamation for this one. Leif Erikson is believed to have explored present-day Greenland and Canada more than 1,000 years ago, 500 years before Christopher Columbus voyaged to the new world. But Christopher is not giving up his throne: Columbus Day is still remembered as the premier celebration of folks from across the pond "discovering" America.

What other holidays have we forgotten? Are there any you wish would make a comeback?

By Sam Sanders  | December 27, 2010; 12:31 PM ET
Categories:  Holiday  
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