What Is Kwanzaa?

What Is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is a unique African-American celebration with a focus on traditional African values of family, community, responsibility, commerce and self-improvement. Kwanzaa is neither religious nor political, and despite some misconceptions, it is not a substitute for Christmas. It is simply a time of reaffirmation for African-American people of their ancestors and their culture. Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga and is celebrated from December 26 to January 1 by more than 13 million people worldwide. It is based on seven guiding principles, or Nguzo Saba, one for each day of the observance:  
  1. Umoja (Unity): Stresses the importance of togetherness of the family and community.
  2. Kujichagulia (Self-determination): Requires that we define our common interests and make decisions that are in the best interest of the family and community.
  3. Umija (Collective work and responsibility): Reminds us of our obligation to the past, present and future and how it relates to one’s role in the community, society and the world.
  4. Ujamma (Cooperative economics): Emphasizes the collective economic strength and encourages the achievement of common needs through mutual support.
  5. Nia (Purpose): Encourages one to look within themselves and to set personal goals that are beneficial to the community.
  6. Kuumba (Creativity): Makes use of creative energies to build and maintain a strong community.
  7. Imani (Faith): Affirms self-worth and confidence in ability to succeed and triumph in righteous struggle.

How is Kwanzaa Celebrated?

During the week of Kwanzaa, people gather in the evenings to light the candles of the kinara and share thoughts on the Nguzo Saba of the day. There are seven candles, mishumaa saba with three red candles to the right, three green candles to the left, and one black candle in the center of the kinara. The red is for the blood of the African people, the green is for the hope of new life or freedom, and the black is for unity. The table is set with straw place mats called mkeka, and fruits and vegetables called mazao and muhundi, which represent the rewards of unity. Muhundi are ears of corn which represent children and are at the center of the Kwanzaa celebration. There is also a unity cup or kikombe ya umoja, from which all will sip. During each night of Kwanzaa, one might stay home with family or join others in the community. On the evening of Kuumba, there is a great celebration called Karamu. This is the great feast of Kwanzaa, a celebration of African American heritage. There are folktales, songs, stories and plenty of food to enjoy! This is also the night when people exchange gifts. It is a feast of the past, present and dreams for the future.  

Special Kwanzaa Greeting

The greeting when meeting someone during Kwanzaa is “Harambee.” The response is the principle of the day being symbolized (e.g., “Harambee!” Response: “Umoja!” or “Imani!”)
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