Kwanzaa is a festival based on the principles of African culture that is celebrated by some African Americans between Christmas and New Year.

It is a week long festival that honors the family, community, culture and the up life of human beings. Kwanzaa begins on December 26th and carries on for seven days and nights, until January 1st. It is based upon the celebration of seven principles or beliefs and the name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase ‘matunda ya kwanza’ which means ‘first fruits’ in Swahili - a language spoken in most of Africa.

The origin

Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday celebrated by millions throughout the world in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and America. Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga (born Ron Everett), an important participant in the civil rights movement and a professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga looked for means to bring African-Americans together as a society. He first introduced Kwanzaa to the African Americans in 1966 as a festival that has now spread world wide.

The celebration

Dr. Karenga brought together facets of numerous harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and those of the Zulu which formed the basis of Kwanzaa. There are no set rules and regulations to the celebration and most families celebrate in their own individualistic ways. However, most celebrations include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal.

Kwanzaa is based upon the celebration of seven principles or beliefs (representing values and concepts reflective of African culture) called the ‘Nguzo Saba’. There are seven days in Kwanzaa - a day to mark each principle.

These principles are:

  • Umoja (Unity),
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination),
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility),
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics),
  • Nia (Purpose),
  • Kuumba (Creativity)
  • Imani (Faith).

The procedure

Much before December 26th, families work together to clean their house in preparation for Kwanzaa. Homes are decorated using red, black and green colors with designs and Kwanzaa symbols such as ankhs, suns, kinaras and fruit baskets.

On that day a candle holder holding seven candles (3 green, three red and one black) is placed on a straw mat. The candle for the principle of the day is lit, feasting takes place and gifts are exchanged.

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