Understanding the Holiday of Kwanzaa

Understanding the Holiday of Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is an African American heritage holiday which was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. Kwanzaa is celebrated through singing, speaking, dancing, and reciting just as is done in traditional African heritage celebrations on the continent of Africa.

Kwanzaa is build on seven principles which are collectively known as “Nguzo Saba.” These seven principles are:

1. umoja - unity
2. kujichagulia - self-determination
3. ujima - collective work and responsibility
4. ujamaa - cooperative economics
5. nia - purpose
6. kuumba - creativity
7. imani - faith

Dr. Karenga developed Kwanzaa from elements of various African heritages and is intended to show appreciation for the “first fruits of harvest.” This is an amazing time to display unity, awareness of ancestry and heritage, recommitment to traditional values, and reverence for The Creator and the creation.

The celebration lasts for seven days, beginning on December 26th and ending on January 1st of each year.

Each of the seven days of the celebration is dedicated to the seven principles listed above. Each day has a colored candle which represents it. They are all held in a candelabrum known as the kinara.

The seven days and their associated candles and principles are:

Day 1 - middle candle - Black - Umoja - Unity
Day 2 - innermost red candle - Kujichagulia - Self-determination
Day 3 - innermost green candle - Ujima - Collective Work and Responsibility
Day 4 - middle red candle - Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
Day 5 - middle green candle - Nia - Purpose
Day 6 - outermost red candle - Kuumba - Creativity
Day 7 - outermost green candle - Imani – Faith

The kinara is placed on a straw mat known as the mkeka. Next to it are placed ears of corn, called vibunzi with one ear of corn to represent each child in the household. Also placed on the straw mat is a fruit basket called mazao, and a unity cup called the kikonbe cha umoja.

On the evening of the last day of the Kwanzaa celebration, a feast called Karamu is held. The evening generally starts with a welcome message, followed by a remembrance of ancestry, a reassessment of situations, a recommitment to values, a rejoicing, a farewell statement and a call for greater unity among all people.

Finally, the last day of Kwanzaa, Imani, the focus is shifted to honoring traditions and reaffirmation of self through gift giving to others. Kwanzaa gifts tend to be hand-made rather than store bought, and should reflect creativity because it is one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

It is very important to understand that the purpose of Kwanzaa is not about giving gifts or a religious celebration. Kwanzaa is simply a commemoration of African heritage and a celebration of togetherness. Kwanzaa is a time for families and friends to come together and celebrate. In addition, the guiding principles of Kwanzaa are meant to promote togetherness and community.

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