What is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is an annual holiday celebrated by millions of people in the United States and around the world. Kwanzaa emphasizes the importance of the pan-African family and the corresponding social values. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. First fruits festivals exist in Southern Africa and are celebrated in December to January with the Southern Hemisphere Summer Solstice.

When is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is held from December 26 to January 1. The communal feast called Karamu Ya Imani, which means Feast of Faith, is held on December 31.

The origins of Kwanzaa

Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 as an African-American holiday. Karenga's goal was to give African-Americans an alternative to the existing holiday of Christmas. With this he intended to give African-Americans an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history.

The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa celebrates the Seven Principles of African Heritage, or Nguzo Saba (also known as Nguzu Saba). These Seven Principles comprise Kawaida, a Swahili word meaning "tradition". Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles:

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

Read more about the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa and their meaning here.

Celebrating Kwanzaa

During the week of Kwanzaa, on each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the kinara. A kinara is a seven-branched candle holder. Three red candles are placed on the left side, three green candles on the right side, and a single black candle in the middle. The seven candles represent the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. Each of the candles also has a meaning. The black candle symbolizes the African people, the red candles symbolize struggle, and the green candles future and hope.

Families celebrating Kwanzaa decorate their houses with objects of art, colorful African cloths such as kente and fresh fruits that represent African idealism. Especially the women wear kaftans. It is customary to give respect and gratitude to ancestors and to include children in all Kwanzaa ceremonies. Libations are shared. Generally a common chalice is passed around to all celebrants, this chalice is known as a Kikombe Cha Umoja.

Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way. Kwanzaa celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal known as Karamu Ya Imani (feast of faith).

Kwanzaa Gifts

On the seventh day of Kwanzaa, when Imani is observed, meaningful zawadi (gifts) are exchanged to encourage growth, self-determination, achievement, and success. The exchange of gifts is done with family members, especially children, to reward accomplishments and commitments kept. Handmade gifts are encouraged to promote self-determination, purpose, and creativity and to avoid the chaos of shopping and conspicuous consumption during December.

Draw Names for Kwanzaa

Add a fun twist to your Kwanzaa celebration and host a Secret Kwanzaa. By hosting a Secret Kwanzaa gift exchange you can avoid both the chaos of shopping as well as conspicuous consumption. Every giftee will receive a meaningful gift they really like and no one has to buy more than one gift. Invite your family to draw names online, let everyone draw a name and make a wish list and exchange gifts for Kwanzaa.
Draw Names for Kwanzaa

We wish you a joyous Kwanzaa!