Photo looking down upon a long dining table made of dark brown wood and decorated with a long table runner down the center consisting of wide green and red stripes divided by a thin black stripe of fabric. Three people in colorful attire sit around the table, passing dishes of food and serving some onto plates. Dishes of greens, cornbread, green beans, sliced bread, and other foods are being shared.


Habari Gani? (Or, What’s the News?)

Celebrating family, community, and culture, Kwanzaa embraces seven days of reflection and guiding principles.

Kwanzaa is an African American holiday not linked to any specific religious group or denomination. The word “kwanzaa” is a Kiswahili (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) term meaning “first.” The holiday was created in 1966 in California by Dr. Mualana Karenga as a way for African Americans to reflect on the past, commune with family and friends, and to prepare for a prosperous new year.


Photo of an African American man standing next to tall candle ornaments , the body of which have been painted black and the reproduction "flames" are yellow. The tallest candle decoration has a bare light bulb where the "flame" cover should go, and the man is testing the light bulbs to make sure they are functioning properly. He is wearing a crocheted cap in with red, black, and gray horizontal stripes, and a black leather bomber-style jacket with jeans and a golden yellow sweater. It is night time.

Denver local Irvin Wheeler tests the bulbs on an 8 ft Kinara for the lighting of the first candle of Kwanzaa in Denver's historic Five Points district, Dec. 26, 2006.

Photo by Evan Semon. Rocky Mountain News archive, Denver Public Library.

Kwanzaa is celebrated every year from December 26 to January 1. The main purpose of the holiday is to celebrate family, community, and culture derived from the African continent. The holiday is centered around seven principles: (Umoja) unity, (Kujichagulia) self-determination, (Ujima) collective work and responsibility, (Ujamaa) cooperative economics, (Nia) purpose, (Kuumba) creativity, and (Imani) faith. Aside from talking about and reflecting on the principles of Kwanzaa, it is common to celebrate the holiday with symbolism.


When celebrating Kwanzaa, crops represent our historic roots tied to agriculture here in America, as well as collective labor. Some families choose to place a mat, or mkeka, on the ground to symbolize a dedicated space for self-actualization. Specific crops, like corn, are used to represent the youth and future generations. A special cup is dedicated as the “unity cup,” or Kkimbe cha Umoja, to pour drinks in honor of or give thanks to our ancestors. Similar to Christmas, there are often gifts given, called zawadi, that signify one's commitment to another person.


Photo of a wooden candelabra that is painted red. It has holders for seven candles and is shaped in an upward triangle so that the fourth (middle) candle is the highest, with the other candlesticks descending down to the base. The center candle is a black taper, while the three candles on the left are red tapers, and to the right are three green tapers. The holder sits on a table, with plates of food barely recognizable in the background. In the far background are tall windows emitting daylight.

The kinara is a candle holder used to celebrate Kwanzaa, holding seven candles whose colors reference the Pan-African flag.

Photo by Askar Abayev. Courtesy of Pexels

One of the most recognizable decorations for Kwanzaa is the candle holder, or kinara. The kinara embodies our ancestral origins to the motherland and holds seven candles: three red, one black, and three green, in reference to colors of the Pan-African flag. 

The goal of Kwanzaa is to reflect on the past, enjoy the present, and to welcome the future. It provides a space for African Americans to acknowledge and celebrate both our history and culture here in the United States. Kwanzaa provides another holiday to celebrate one's African heritage alongside holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Juneteenth.