Kwanzaa is a seven day festival that celebrates African and African American culture and history. Kwanzaa takes place from 26th December to 1st January.

The name Kwanzaa comes from the phrase ‘matunda ya kwanza’ which means ‘first fruits’ in the Swahili language (an Eastern African language spoken in countries including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe). Kwanzaa is mostly celebrated in the USA.

Kwanzaa CandlesDuring Kwanzaa a special candle holder called a kinara is used. A kinara hold seven candles, three red ones on the left, three green ones on the right with a black candle in the centre. Each night during Kwanzaa a candle is lit. The black, centre, candle is lit first and the it alternates between the red and green candles stating with the ones on the outside and moving inwards. This is quite similar to the lighting of the menorah in the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah.

The seven days and candles in Kwanzaa represent the seven principles of Kwannzaa (Nguzo Saba):

  • Umoja: Unity – Unity of the family, community, nation and race

    Kujichagulia: Self-Determination – Being responsible for your own conduct and behaviour

  • Ujima: Collective work and responsibility – Working to Help each other and in the community

  • Ujamaa: Cooperative economics – Working to build shops and businesses

  • Nia: Purpose – Remembering and restoring African and African American cultures, customs and history

  • Kuumba: Creativity – Using creating and your imagination to make communities better

  • Imani: Faith – Believing in people, families, leaders, teachers and the righteousness of the African American struggle

There are also seven symbols used in Kwanzaa. The seven items of often set on a Zwanzaa table, with the kinara, in the house:

  • Mkeka: The Mat – A woven mat made of fabric, raffia, or paper. The other symbols are placed on the Mkeka. It symbolises experiences and foundations.

  • Kikombe cha Umoja: The Unity Cup – Represents family and community. It is filled with water, fruit juice or wine. A little is poured out to remember the ancestors. The cup is share between people and each person takes a sip.

  • Mazao: The Crops – Fruit and vegetables from the harvest. These normally includes bananas, mangoes, peaches, plantains, oranges, or other favourites! They are shared out.

  • Kinara: The Candleholder – It represents the days, and principles of Kwanzaa

  • Mishumaa Saba: The Seven Candles – are placed in the kinara. Black, red and green are the colours of the Bendera (African Flag)

  • Muhindi: The Corn – There is one ear of corn of each child in the family. If there are no children in the family, then one ear is used to represent the children in the community. It represents the future and the Navtive Americans.

  • Zawadi: Gifts – Gifts given to children during Kwanzaa are normally educational, such as a book, dvd or game. There’s also a gift reminding them of their African heritage.

There are also sometimes two extra symbols:

  • Bendera: A flag with three horizontal stripes of black, red and green

  • Nguzo Saba Poster: A poster of the seven principles of Kwanzaa

There’s also a special greeting used during Kwanzaa in Swahili. It’s ‘Habari gani’ and the reply is the principle for that day. (Umoja on the first day, Kujichagulia on the second and so on.)

The Kwanzaa festival was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. Dr. Karenga wanted a way bring African Americans together and remember their black culture. Harvest or ‘first fruit’ festivals are celebrated all over Africa. These were celebrations when people would come together and celebrate and give thanks for the good things in their lives and communities.

From these festivals he created Kwanzaa.


4 thoughts on “Kwanzaa

  1. This is by far the most I’ve learned about Kwanzaa. Most of the time, the media treats it like a joke. But from your description, it seems pretty cool. I’m into it. Happy Kwanzaa! Or Habari Gani!

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