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How to Celebrate Kwanzaa!

Quick Facts

  • Kwanzaa is from December 26th to January 1st
  • Kwanzaa is a 7 day festival celebrating the African American people, their culture and their history. It is a time of celebration, community gathering, and reflection.
  • Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, created Kwanzaa in 1966. After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga searched for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community.
  • The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili.
  • On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder), then one of the seven principles is discussed.

If you were ever curious about Kwanzaa
and how the celebration works here is
information to help guide you. 

The Seven Principles

  1. Umoja (oo–MO–jah)/Unity - To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  1. Kujichagulia (koo–gee–cha–goo–LEE–yah)/Self-Determination - To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
  1. Ujima (oo–GEE–mah)/Collective Work & Responsibility - To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
  1. Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah)/ Cooperative Economics - To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  1. Nia (nee–YAH)/ Purpose - To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  1. Kuumba (koo–OOM–bah)/ 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.
  1. Imani (ee–MAH–nee)/ Faith - To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

The Seven Symbols

Kwanzaa has seven basic symbols. Each represents values and concepts reflective of African culture and contributive to community building and reinforcement. The basic symbols in Swahili and then in English are:

Kwanzaa Symbols

  1. Mazao (The Crops) - These are symbolic of African harvest celebrations and of the rewards of productive and collective labor.
  1. Mkeka (The Mat) - This is symbolic of our tradition and history and therefore, the foundation on which we build.
  1. Kinara (The Candle Holder) - This is symbolic of our roots, our parent people -- continental Africans.
  1. Muhindi (The Corn) - This is symbolic of our children and our future, which they embody.
  1. Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles) - These are symbolic of the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, the matrix and minimum set of values which African people are urged to live by in order to rescue and reconstruct their lives in their own image and according to their own needs.
  1. Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup) - This is symbolic of the foundational principle and practice of unity, which makes all else possible.
  1. Zawadi (The Gifts) - These are symbolic of the labor and love of parents and the commitments made and kept by the children.

Gift Giving & Traditional Colors

  • Gifts are mainly given to children, but must always include a book and a heritage symbol. The book is to emphasize the African value and tradition of learning stressed since ancient Egypt, and the heritage symbol to reaffirm and reinforce the African commitment to tradition and history.
  • The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green and can be utilized in decorations for Kwanzaa. Also decorations should include traditional African items, i.e., African baskets, cloth patterns, art objects, harvest symbols, etc.


Tell us how you will be celebrating Kwanzaa this year!


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