Learn the purpose, history, symbols, and dates of the cultural celebration of Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration honoring African heritage in African American culture. You may have questions about this holiday and we have answers for you. Find out what Kwanzaa is, what each symbol of the holiday means and much more here.
What is Kwanzaa?
Kwanzaa is derived from a Swahili phrase which means first fruits of the harvest. There are seven principles of Kwanzaa as well as seven basic symbols; one for each day of the holiday. The Nguzo Saba or seven core principles are values of African culture which contribute to strengthening and building upon the African-American community. The seven basic symbols reflect African values and concepts.
Who created Kwanzaa?
Professor, activist and author, Maulana Karenga, formerly Ronald Everett, is the creator of the pan-African and African-American holiday which was first celebrated in December of 1966, ongoing into the new year in 1967. Karenga created Kwanzaa to give African-Americans the opportunity to promote unity and to uplift those of African decent and to celebrate their history and African culture.
Can you celebrate Christmas and Kwanzaa?
Yes. Many African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa observe Christmas as well.
When is Kwanzaa?
Every year it’s the same. It’s celebrated for 7 days following Christmas Day.
What happens during Kwanzaa?
Each night, there is a candle-lighting ceremony where families gather to share and discuss the meaning of Kwanzaa as well as the principle for the day. The candles, which are lit on a Kinara (candleholder) by a child each night, are representative of the seven principles; the sun, its power, and is used to provide light. There is one black, three red, and three green candles; each a symbol for a principle. The first night, the center and black candle is lit. During the week of Kwanzaa, the Kinara is placed on top of a placemat or mkeka. Other symbols related to the holiday are also placed on the mkeka. An African feast called Karamu is held on December 31st. On the last and seventh day of Kwanzaa, gifts or Zawadi are given.
What are the Seven Principles?
- Umoja (oo-MO-jah): Unity - To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
- Kijuchagulia (koo-gee-cha-goo-LEE-yah): Self-determination - To define ourselves, name ourselves, create ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
- Ujima (oo-GEE-mah): Collective Work and Responsibility - To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems and to solve them together.
- Ujamaa (oo-JAH-mah): Cooperative Economics - To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other business and to profit from them together.
- Nia (nee-YAH): Purpose - To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
- Kuumba (koo-OOm-bah): Creativity - To always do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
- Imani (ee-MAH-nee): Faith - To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leader, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
What are the Seven Symbols?
- Mazao: crops (fruits, nuts and vegetables)
- Mkeka: placemat
- Vibunzi: ear of corn
- Michumaa Saba: seven candles
- Kinara: candleholder
- Kikombe cha umoja: the unity cup
- Zawadi: gifts
This year Kwanzaa is Thursday, December 26, 2013 until Wednesday, January 1, 2014.