What is Kwanzaa?

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From December 26 to January 1, many people of African descent in America celebrate Kwanzaa. This holiday was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a Black American scholar, and activist. It was created as an alternative for African Americans who did not see themselves reflected in the commercial holiday of Christmas.

Kwanzaa celebrates the seven basic principles of African culture— umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith).

Customs & Symbols

Although every family has their own traditions, common celebrations consist of singing and dancing, storytelling, poetry reading, African drumming and having one large meal with the entire family. The large meal is called Kamaru and is held on the evening of the December 31st.

There are also symbols that have special meanings to the celebration of Kwanzaa. For example, the mkeka is a straw mat which symbolizes the tradition as the foundation on which all else rests. The kinara is a seven-space candle holder, representing the original stalk from which the African people originated.

The mishumaa saba (seven candles) stand for the Seven Principles. The muhindi are the ears of corn which represent the offspring (children) of the stalk (parents of the house). The zawadi (gifts) represent the fruits of the labor of the parents and the rewards of seeds sown by the children.

Kwanzaa is a time to recognize and celebrate Black history and heroes.

Learn More

-To teach kids more about Kwanzaa, you can listen to the podcast, Kwanzaa Time! with Aunti Oni. Each episode includes a story that illustrates one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Unity, Self determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith

-Watch this History and Traditions of Kwanzaa video to get an overview of Kwanzaa’s importance for Black people and its relevance for all people. “It was meant to reconnect African Americans back to a cultural base.”

-Check out these 9 Books for Kwanzaa

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