Kwanzaa (For Dummies)

When you think of this time of year, you envision chestnuts roasting on an open fire and intimate moments with friends and families. These keep us as warm inside as out during the cold winter months. With this comes a variety of different celebrations that take place during December. From Christmas and Hanukkah to a lesser-known holiday…Kwanzaa.


Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration that honors Black/African American culture and traditional values. These celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal. It is observed from December 26th to January 1st and consists of gift-giving and a big feast. This holiday is pretty new in comparison to other holidays celebrated in the U.S.


There are several principles of Kwanzaa, in the order of Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). These principles in tandem with their respective symbols are presented in the form of seven candles. Three of which are red, representing the struggle of Black people within the U.S, and three of which are green, which symbolizes hope for the future. The last candle is black, which represents people of African descent. 


Kwanzaa is actually less than 50 years old. Maulana Karenga, a black nationalist who later became a college professor, created Kwanzaa as a way of uniting and empowering the African-American community after the devastating Watts riots. He took the name  “Kwanzaa” from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits.”

Synthia SAINT JAMES Masekelas Marketplace Congo Giclee On Canvas African  American Fine Art
Photo: Synthia SAINT JAMES

Though often thought of as an alternative to Christmas, many people actually celebrate both. Now that you’ve received a small crash course on the meaning of Kwanzaa maybe you’ll give it a try! Or at least be more knowledgeable on the topic and its strong connection with the Black community. 

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