Kwanzaa: An Annual Celebration of African American Culture – BOTWC


Kwanzaa: An Annual Celebration of African American Culture

Kwanzaa: An Annual Celebration of African American Culture

Habari Gani?

In honor of the holidays, we're celebrating Kwanzaa, an annual celebration of African-American culture and heritage. 

Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach founded Kwanzaa in 1966. The holiday is a ritual festival he created as a response to the commercialism and capitalism of Christmas, as a way to welcome the first harvests to the home, UPenn African Studies Center reports.

The festival runs from December 26th to January 1st annually and takes its name from the KiSwahili word “kwanza” meaning first. Central to the tenet of the holiday are five sets of values; ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment and celebration. 

Various symbols (Nguzo Saba) are present in Kwanzaa that give meaning to the Black experience like crops (mzao), representing the history of agriculture and reward for collective labor, the mat (mkeka) representing the importance of self-actualization, the candle holder (kinara) reminds followers of their ancestral origins, corne (muhindi) represents children and hope in the younger generation, gifts (Zawadi) symbolize the commitment of parents to their children, the unity cup (Kkimbe cha Umoja) pours libations to the ancestors and the seven candles (mishumaa saba) - 3 red, 1 black and 3 green - remind us of the seven principles and colors in the African liberation movement flag. 

Each day of Kwanzaa represents a different principle and families celebrate in a variety of ways, through song, dance, and storytelling, reports. Every night, a child lights a candle on the holder and the family discusses one of the principles designed to build and reinforce community among Black people. On the last day, gifts are exchanged and everyone celebrates with a feast. The seven principles of Kwanzaa are as follows:


Unity (Umoja)

To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.


Self-Determination (Kujichagulia)

To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.


Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima)

To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.


Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa)

To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.


Purpose (Nia)

To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness. 


Creativity (Kuumba)

To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.


Faith (Imani)

To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle. 

May the principles of Kwanzaa shine through us all. Happy Holidays!

Photo Courtesy of Bill Alkofer