With this vibrant new stamp design, the U.S. Postal Service continues its tradition of celebrating Kwanzaa. This annual non-religious holiday, which takes place over seven days from December 26 to January 1, brings family, community and culture together for many African Americans. December 26, 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of this widely celebrated holiday.
The colorful stamp art features a woman holding a bowl that overflows with fruits and vegetables, symbolizing the abundance of African first harvest celebrations that inspired the creation of Kwanzaa.
Created in 1966, Kwanzaa draws on African traditions, deriving its name from the phrase “first fruits” in Swahili, a widely spoken African language. It has its origins in first harvest celebrations that occurred across the African continent in ancient and modern times. Kwanzaa synthesizes and reinvents these tribal traditions as a contemporary celebration of African-American culture.
Each year, millions of African Americans gather with friends and family around a table set with the mkeka— a straw mat symbolizing the history of African Americans. They light seven candles known as the mishumaa saba, each representing one of the founding principles, and share in a feast that celebrates their shared heritage. Kwanzaa is a festive occasion that rejoices in the prospect of health, prosperity, and good luck in the coming year, while recalling the past and its role in future happiness.
Artist Synthia Saint James worked with art director Greg Breeding, who designed the stamp. Growing up in New York and Los Angeles, Saint James always knew she wanted to be an artist. Self-taught, she developed an artistic style that is uniquely and recognizably her own.
Saint James sold her first painting at age 20, a commissioned piece for a coworker, which helped launch her artistic career. A professional artist for more than 45 years, she has worked with clients such as Barnes and Noble, Maybelline, UNICEF, Essence magazine, and The Coca-Cola Company, among others. Saint James created the original cover art for Terry McMillan’s novel Waiting to Exhale and has illustrated and/or authored 17 children’s books. Her work has been exhibited internationally and has appeared in several United States embassies around the world.
With bright, bold colors, Saint James’s striking paintings convey the joy and vibrancy of her subjects. Inspired in part by French Impressionists, she focuses on shapes and overall visual effects, using as many as nine coats of paint to get the colors just right.
Saint James lives and works in Los Angeles. She created the art for the first Kwanzaa stamp issued in 1997. Kwanzaa (2016) is her second project for the Postal Service™.
This is the sixth stamp design issued by the U.S. Postal Service in celebration of Kwanzaa. The first Kwanzaa commemorative stamp was issued in 1997. New designs were also issued in 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2013.
Kwanzaa is being issued as a Forever stamp. This Forever stamp will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce price.