Kwanzaa is a completely different type of holiday than Christmas. It cannot be used in place of Christmas because the two represent completely different things. Kwanzaa is an African American celebration of African heritage and culture. Christmas is one of the most important holidays in the Christian faith and celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ whom Christianity is based around. Many people all over the world, including people in Africa, have celebrated the birth of Christ for approximately 2000 years.
Kwanzaa has only been around for 42 years. Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966. Dr. Karenga teaches Africana Studies at the California State University and was a significant Black political and intellectual persona in the 1960s. By creating Kwanzaa, Dr. Karenga established the first holiday specifically celebrating African American's heritage. The holiday is based on Nguzo Saba, the seven guiding principles that Dr. Karenga created to help African Americans relate to each other better and to rebuild their lives.
The seven principles are observed one per day during the seven-day celebration. Maitefa Angaza has written about titled "Kwanzaa From Holiday to Every Day: A Complete Guide for Making Kwanzaa a Part of Your Life." In her book she has a section subtitled, "I Celebrate Christmas: Why Add Kwanzaa?" Her she explains that Kwanzaa has no connection to Christmas and "does not stand in conflict with any religion." (p.11) She goes on to explain that Dr. Karenga chose the time period of December 26 through January 1 to celebrate Kwanzaa because it coincides with the traditional harvest celebrations in Africa that are still celebrated in many places today.
There are some similarities between how the Christmas holiday is celebrated and how Kwanzaa is celebrated. Homes are decorated for both holidays, gifts are exchanged and there is a large feast involving family and friends. There are very different reasons for each holiday and these are the reasons Kwanzaa is not an alternative to Christmas. Kwanzaa is not a political or religious celebration even though there are people who would label it as both. Christmas is a religious holiday. Another major difference between Kwanzaa and Christmas is that one man created Kwanzaa. Many people have followed his example and teachings but Kwanzaa is not recognized as an official holiday. There are many African descended people around the world who celebrate Kwanzaa but they also celebrate Christmas.
Christmas, on the other hand, was first celebrated about 2000 years ago. It was not called Christmas during the early Christian periods but the birth of Christ was celebrated by these early Christians. The first Christian calendar to contain anything about celebrating Jesus' birth on December 25th was compiled in 336 A. D in Rome and it was called the Feast of the Nativity. The name Christmas originated from the words "Cristes maesse" which means Christ's Mass. It was the mass that the Church of Rome had as part of the celebration of the Feast of the Nativity and their birth of Christ.