NEWARK, N.J. (PIX11) — The holidays are here, and this time of year is about keeping traditions alive. That’s exactly what’s happening at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark for the annual Kwanzaa celebration.

The three-day celebration returned to in-person after a pandemic hiatus. The sound of African drums welcomed the crowds to the Kwanzaa Family Festival at NJPAC.

The annual celebration is meant to nurture a sense of community and build excitement for the upcoming holiday celebration of African-American culture. Organizers said the festival aligns with the principles of Kwanzaa. 

“Five organizations came together in this building to do great work. And that is to build economic development, responsibility, self-determination, faith and unity,” said Eyesha Marable, assistant VP of community engagement for NJPAC.

The festival celebrates its 25th anniversary, making for a milestone celebration with big entertainment. 

“This is my first time coming. My favorite part was the face painting,” said Miracle Prímus.

Aside from performances every hour, arts and crafts, and an artisan marketplace comprised of local vendors, the event’s centerpiece is a special performance of a Hip Hop Nutcracker Show, MC’ed by Hip Hop Pioneer, the legendary Kurtis Blow. 

For vendors participating in the cultural celebration, the event provides a unique opportunity for exposure.

“And especially people of color, women of color and black women. As we know, we are underrepresented in so many ways,” said Sheila Ruiz from Added Touch, a handmade jewelry and accessories company. “I think this is an excellent opportunity for us to showcase and let the community know it’s best to support local businesses.”

Some said the festival is about the future and preserving traditions for the next generation.

“I brought a number of what I call scholars from the city of Paterson, and I brought them here because this is our way of kicking off Kwanzaa. It’s also part of our cultural celebration.” celebrate our culture,” said Raheem Smallwood.

He runs a youth organization in Paterson. Ashonia Willis is one of the program’s scholars.

“Every year you celebrate Kwanzaa, you get closer to African roots, in my opinion. I get closer,” said Willis. 

Kwanzaa kicks off the day after Christmas, Dec. 26, to Jan. 1.