COLORFUL PROCESSIONS, storytelling, hands-on craft-making and an appearance by Maulana Karenga, founder of the African American holiday Kwanzaa, highlight the Smithsonian Institution's first all-day Kwanzaa celebration, scheduled from 11 to 5 on Dec. 18.

"With three sites, it will be a nice way for people to get to know three different museums," says Fleur Paysour, director of public affairs for the Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture, which is hosting the event along with the National Museum of African Art and the National Museum of Natural History. The joint affair replaces the Anacostia Museum's annual nighttime Kwanzaa observance, which proved so popular that the museum had to turn away as many as 300 people a couple of years ago, Paysour says. She expects thousands to attend this year's activities.

Family-oriented performances, workshops, gallery talks and demonstrations of the traditional Kwanzaa ceremony will take place during the event, which is designed to give visitors of all backgrounds "an understanding of traditional African principals, of community, of unity, of thanksgiving," Paysour says.

"It's a way for non-Africans to get a nice little window on what Africans and African nations believe, what these people hold dear to their hearts. It's a lesson in cultural diversity," she says. "And it certainly is beautiful!"

Guest speaker Karenga, who chairs the Department of Black Studies at California State University, created Kwanzaa in 1966 to give African Americans an opportunity to celebrate African traditions and take pride in their individual and community achievements. At the festival, he'll lecture on "The Ageless Message and Meaning of Kwanzaa: Celebrating Family, Community and Culture."

On each night of the holiday, which runs Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, families gather to perform a ceremony that includes drinking from a unity cup (or "kikombe cha umoja" in Kiswahili or Swahili) and lighting candles (mishumaa saba) in a seven-branched holder (kinara). Visitors at the Smithsonian celebration can view tables set with these and other traditional symbols, including a straw mat (mkeka), corn (muhindi), fruit (mazao) and gifts (zawadi). Storytellers at the festival will describe the objects' meanings and explain the holiday's seven principals: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba) and faith (imani).

The Smithsonian's celebration will include lots of components to attract children, Paysour says.

"The more colorful it is, the more interested they are," she says, citing as an example the processions that will take place on the Mall as Ghanaian drummers and dancers clad in kente cloth parade between museums. "We're expecting their little eyes to just light up!"

The joyous processions, which will move the performers from one show to the next, will welcome audience participation, Paysour says. "We will make sure to pull in people from the crowd!"

Free, passport-like Family Activity Sheets, available at the museums' information desks, connect Kwanzaa principles with exhibitions at the three locations. Visitors who get their sheets stamped at all three museums will receive Kwanzaa souvenir cards. A free Kwanzaa guide, also obtainable at the front desks, describes the holiday's principals and symbols and recommends related literature.

The Kwanzaa celebration ties in with the Museum of Natural History's "African Voices," a new permanent exhibition that opens Wednesday and will focus on many elements of African culture. The galleries include interactive components such as a touch-screen computer program on dyeing kente cloth, a hunt for symbols in African money and a resource area with computer workstations where visitors can access the exhibition's Web site and an Encarta program on Africa.

A Kwanzaa Cornucopia

Kwanzaa activities will take place at the following Smithsonian locations and other area museums.

The District

ANACOSTIA MUSEUM AND CENTER FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE -- Arts and Industries Building, 900 Jefferson Dr. SW (Metro: Smithsonian). 202/357-2700 (TTY: 202/357-1729). Web site: Open daily 10 to 5:30 except Dec. 25. Free admission. Kwanzaa events on Dec. 18 include storytelling by master storyteller Bill Grimmette or storyteller/drummer Jamal, along with demonstrations of the Kwanzaa ceremony at 11, noon, 1 and 2 in the south gallery's activity room; and Ghanaian drumming and dancing by Akatanwia from 3 to 4 in the rotunda.

CAPITAL CHILDREN'S MUSEUM -- 800 Third St. NE (Metro: Union Station). 202/675-4120. Web site: Open daily 10 to 5. Adults and children $6, seniors $4, members and ages 2 and younger free. A family membership costs $50 annually. The museum holds two Kwanzaa events, free with admission, on Dec. 26. From noon to 3, children can weave paper mkekas during a drop-in workshop. At 2 p.m., master storyteller Baba C. will use an interactive approach to describe the holiday and its traditions.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART -- 950 Independence Ave. SW (Metro: Smithsonian). 202/357-2700 (TTY: 202/357-1729). Web site: Open daily 10 to 5:30 except Dec. 25. Free admission. During the Kwanzaa celebration on Dec. 18, the museum features hourly gallery talks from 11:30 to 4:30 on agriculture-oriented works, such as Bamana Chi-Wara antelope mask-headdresses. Other activities include drumming and dancing by Akatanwia from 1 to 2; and paper weaving to create kente designs, for children accompanied by adults, 11 to 4:30 in the museum's workshop adjacent to the "Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity" hands-on activity center.


AMERICAN HISTORY -- 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW (Metro: Federal Triangle or Smithsonian) 202/357-2700 (TTY: 202/357-1729). Web site: Open daily 10 to 5:30 except Dec. 25. Free admission. The annual three-day Holiday Celebration from noon to 4, Dec. 26-28, includes several and Kwanzaa- and African American-related activities and performers. From 1 to 3 on Dec. 26, storyteller Bill Grimmette leads a hands-on workshop about how to celebrate Kwanzaa. The Holiday Marketplace, which features demonstrations of holiday crafts and foods, includes a Kwanzaa altar and textiles by Dietra Montague, noon to 4 daily. Kombo Omolara, a West African stilt walker accompanied by drums, performs from 2 to 4 on Dec. 27, and Reverb sings a cappella gospel and holiday songs at 12:30 on Dec. 28. The multicultural festival also presents a variety of other holiday traditions, such as Chinese New Year's dancing, Czechoslovak Christmas ornament making, Mexican pinata breaking and Jewish paper cutting.


NATURAL HISTORY -- 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW (Metro: Federal Triangle). Web site: Open daily 10 to 5:30 except Dec. 25. Free admission. The third site of the Kwanzaa celebration on Dec. 18 features dancing and drumming from 11 to noon in the rotunda; lectures by Maulana Karenga at noon and 4 in the Baird Auditorium; storytelling and ceremony demonstrations at 11:30, 12:30, 1:30, 2:30, 3:30 and 4:30 in the rotunda; and gallery talks from 11:30 to 4:30 in the new "African Voices" exhibition.


BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF ART -- Art Museum Drive at North Charles and 31st streets, Baltimore. 410/396-7100, 410/396-6320 (education department). Web site: Take I-95 north to I-395 to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Turn left on Howard Street and continue past 29th Street. At the fork, bear right onto Art Museum Drive. Open 11 to 5 Wednesday through Friday, 5 to 9 the first Thursday of each month and 11 to 6 Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and full-time students, free for museum members and ages 18 and under. Admission is free for all visitors every Thursday. A Kwanzaa Family Celebration, from 2 to 5 on Dec. 26, features hands-on workshops, arts and crafts, caricaturists, a Kwanzaa candle lighting ceremony, gallery tours, a fashion show, food tasting, dancing with the Stephanie Powell Dance Ensemble, music by the Ebony Strings and Madison Shout Band from the United House of Prayer for All People and a music workshop led by SoulShakus.