Celebrate family, community and culture – celebrate Kwanzaa! This African American and Pan-African holiday is observed from December 26 – January 1 each year. It was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of Africana Studies at California State University, in order to promote, preserve and continually revitalize African American culture.
The origins of Kwanzaa come from the first harvest celebrations of Africa. The name “Kwanzaa” is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili, a Pan-African language which is the most widely spoken African language. Kwanzaa is structured around the five activities of Continental African “first fruit” celebrations, which are ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment and celebration. Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious one, so it’s embraced by Africans of all religious faiths.
Each year, participants take part in feasting, gift giving and in the symbolic lighting of a candle holder called a kinara. The lighting is similar to the lighting of the Menorah during Hanukkah, the Jewish celebration in December. The kinara’s shape is symbolic of the roots that African Americans have in the continent of Africa. During Kwanzaa, seven candles are placed in the kinara – three red candles (African blood shed) on the left, three green candles (the land of Africa) on the right, and one black candle (the African race) in the center. The seven candles represent the Seven Principles (or Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa, while the colors of red, green and black represent the colors of the holiday. A new candle is lit on each day of Kwanzaa, with the center black candle being the first. The rest of the lighting alternates between the red and green candles beginning with the outermost red candle and moving towards the center. Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to the reflection on one of the Seven Principles.
The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa
- Umoja (Unity)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
- Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
- Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
- Nia (Purpose)
To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
- Kuumba (Creativity)
To do always 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 (Faith)
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.