Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday focusing on traditional African values of family, community responsibility, commerce and self-improvement. This holiday is not political or religious, but is a time of reaffirming African-American people, their ancestors and culture. More than 18 million people worldwide celebrate Kwanzaa, whose name is derived from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” or “first fruits”. Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 to January 1.
Kwanzaa’s founder, Karenga, stated that Kwanzaa “was chosen to give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” Today, many African-American families celebrate Kwanzaa, New Year’s and Christmas.
The Seven Principles
Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa commemorates one of the “Seven Principals of Blackness”. Each day, a candle is lit in the Kinara. The first candle is black, and is lit and placed in the center of the Kinara. This candle is symbolic of Unity (Umoja). As the celebration continues, a red or green candle is lit to commemorate each principle. The three green candles represent self-determination (Kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (Ujima), and cooperative economics (Ujamaa). The three red candles are for purpose (Nia), creativity (Kuumba) and Imani (faith).
Decorations and Foods
It is customary to decorate households with art, colorful cloth and fresh fruit. Corn is also a part of the celebratory decorations. The celebration includes a Karamu, or African feast, on the very last day, December 31st. Traditional foods can be family favorites or country-specific fare. To help learn more about African heritage, some celebrations may focus on one country, with the entire karamu menu consisting of foods from that country.