Celebrating Kwanzaa: What you need to know about the holiday and its principles

Kwanzaa celebrations

You may have heard of Kwanzaa, but do you know what it is or what it means to the people who celebrate it?

Kwanzaa is an annual holiday that affirms African family, tradition, and social values. The holiday is celebrated primarily in the United States from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 but it is also celebrated around the world and is especially popular in the Caribbean.

Kwanzaa, which comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” or “first fruits,” was created in 1966 by Professor Maulana Karenga of Africana studies at California State University in Long Beach. Karenga chose Swahili as the holiday’s language because it’s one that isn’t defined by a particular African region or tribe, CNN reported.

Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to the “Nguzo Saba,” which is also known as the seven principles.

Here is what we know about the holiday and what it means to many across the globe.

During this time, families and communities come together as a way to honor their ancestors while celebrating African and African-American culture. According to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture, each day a candle is lit to represent and discuss the following seven principles:

  • Umoja (Unity)
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
  • Nia (Purpose)
  • Kuumba (Creativity)
  • Imani (Faith)

A table is decorated with the symbols of Kwanzaa, such as the kinara (candle holder), mkeka (mat), muhindi (corn to represent the children), mazao (fruit to represent the harvest), and zawadi (gifts). The kinara holds seven candles-- one black, three red, and three green, which represent the people, the struggle, and the future. The number of candles also represents the seven principles.

On Dec. 31, family and friends come together for a community feast called the karamu. Some participants wear traditional African clothing during the celebration, according to Britannica.com.

While the last day of Kwanzaa focuses on giving gifts, they are typically homemade. The gifts are oftentimes based on African values and culture.

And while this holiday is based on African principles, everyone can celebrate!

About the Author

Prairie View A&M University graduate with a master’s degree in Digital Media Studies from Sam Houston State. Delta woman. Proud aunt. Lover of the color purple. 💜