How the Watts riots helped create a new kind of American holiday.

Yesterday marked the first day of the weeklong celebration of Kwanzaa. Each year, millions of African-Americans celebrate their heritage by observing the holiday, which honors a medley of African and African-American customs and traditions, as well as instructs—each of the seven days offers a Horatio-Alger-like principle of self-improvement. In this December 1996 “Gist,” Carol M. Beach explains how Kwanzaa morphed from an attempt to elevate a socio-political cause (cultural security for black Americans) to the exalted status of religious festival. She also explores the ways in which Kwanzaa, like Hanukkah, has since been altered by the competitive commercial force of Christmas.