12/03/2004 at 01:00 AM EST
Instead of celebrating Kwanzaa by the book—with plates of fruits and vegetables symbolizing the first harvests in Africa and candle lightings—soul singer Jaheim keeps the holiday relaxed. "It isn't about material things," says Jaheim, 27 (who doesn't use his last name, Hoagland, professionally). "There are no presents, only the gift of love and spending time together." Joined by some 20 members of his extended family and friends, "we go to church and cook, " he says. Attending church is a big part of any Hoagland gathering since both Jaheim's paternal grandparents are ministers and an aunt is an evangelist. "The word is deep in my family," says the singer, whose current hit single is "My Place," a duet with rapper Nelly. And while his grandmothers and his "aunties" usually prepare a Kwanzaa feast of mac and cheese, collard greens, turkey, stuffing and yams, "I cook all the time," says Jaheim. "I lost my mom at 16 and had to learn to do things myself." After dinner, most guests go in for a round of dancing. "Because of the loss of my mom, I haven't been able to celebrate Christmas," he says. "Kwanzaa brings our family close."