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.
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.
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.