Kwanzaa History and Traditions
Kwanzaa began back in 1966, when Professor Maulana Karenga of California State University, Long Beach, created the holiday to reconnect African-Americans with their cultural roots and traditions. The word “Kwanzaa” comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which translates to “first fruits.” The first harvest has been celebrated in African history since ancient times, beginning with the Egyptians. It has been commemorated as a time to strengthen bonds between people, give thanks for the bountiful earth, honor past generations, commit to self-improvement, and rejoice for family and the many blessings of life.
The holiday lasts for seven days, each of which is dedicated to a revered principle of life. These principles include umoja (unity within the family, community and nation), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (work and responsibility toward the collective community), ujamaa (working together in business to succeed economically), nia (serving a purpose and advancing toward greatness), kuumba (to use creativity to make every aspect of life as beautiful as possible) and imani (faith in God, family and society).
Kwanzaa customs include decorating the house with traditional art, exchanging gifts, wearing colorful African cloths and eating fresh, ripe fruits. A chalice, called a “kikombe cha umoja” (or “unity cup”), is passed around to share drinks with the family, and the home is also decorated with a mat called “mkeka,” which bears the symbols of abundant crops. A candle holder called a “kinara” holds seven candles that are lit each night as a tribute to the seven principles of Kwanzaa.
When Is Kwanzaa?
Kwanzaa is always observed from December 26 to January 1, so each year it falls on different days of the week. To help you keep track of your Kwanzaa celebration each year, we’ve created a handy Kwanzaa calendar with Kwanzaa dates from 2014 to 2020!
- Kwanzaa 2014: Friday, December 26 – Thursday, January 1
- Kwanzaa 2015: Saturday, December 26 – Friday, January 1
- Kwanzaa 2016: Monday, December 26 – Sunday, January 1
- Kwanzaa 2017: Tuesday, December 26 – Monday, January 1
- Kwanzaa 2018: Wednesday, December 26 – Tuesday, January 1
- Kwanzaa 2019: Thursday, December 26 – Wednesday, January 1
- Kwanzaa 2020: Saturday, December 26 – Friday, January 1