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NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — Christmas is over, but Kwanzaa is just beginning.

Families at U.S. military bases in Europe and across the globe celebrated the roots of African-American culture on the first day of the holiday by lighting one of seven candles on Thursday.

The African-American Heritage Committee in Rota ushered in Kwanzaa festivities with a special presentation at the base library.

Committee members explained the tradition, read stories and showed how to make an African mat, called a mkeka.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Dwayne Rose began the presentation by delivering the Swahili greeting “Habari gani,” which means “What’s going on?” He said Kwanzaa is an important time for African-Americans to spotlight their heritage.

“This is a time we look back and reflect on our history,” said Rose, a hospital corpsman based in Rota.

Kwanzaa is an African-American and Pan-African holiday that begins Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 1.

Although the nonreligious event began in the 1960s, its origins date back centuries to the harvest celebrations in Africa. Kwanzaa is derived from the Swahili phrase matunda ya Kwanzaa, which means “first fruits.”

Maulana “Ron” Karenga, a black studies professor from California, founded the holiday in 1966. Today, millions of people observe the holiday, which focuses on family, community and culture.

While Kwanzaa is an African-American celebration inspired by African traditions, people of all ethnic backgrounds are invited to celebrate. At the presentation in Rota, the handful of people who came to learn about the holiday were white.

Kwanzaa focuses on seven principles, beginning with unity and ending with faith. Each day, a candle is lit signifying one of the principles. A black candle in the center of the Kinara, or candleholder, is always first.

After a candle is lit, participants make a commitment to practice and promote each principle throughout the year. Each gathering is followed by seven calls of “Harambee,” which means “Let’s all pull together.”

Some families mark the holiday by decorating a table with the Kinara and symbols of African heritage. Ears of corn represent the number of children in the household.

A feast, or Karamu, is held on New Year’s Eve.

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