What is Kwanzaa? All about this celebration

  • Sol Rivero

Christmas and Hanukah are not the only holidays commemorated this month, and on December 26, many African-American families also observe Kwanzaa, a relatively recent holiday. But, what is Kwanzaa?

If you’ve heard about this holiday, yet know little about it, then you can read on and discover all about this celebration. Check it out!


What is Kwanzaa? The origins of the holiday

Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday celebrated annually from December 26th to January 1st. The name derives from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means “first fruits” and refers to common harvest celebrations which took place in different cultures of Africa.

In 1966, in the midst of ethnic conflicts which took place in the United States, Dr. Maulana Karenga from the California State University, decided to rescue African-American values by presenting a social holiday which could help bring together people with African heritage. Thus, Kwanzaa was born as a week-long celebration in which family and friends could discuss and celebrate the seven principles of African culture -called Nguzo Saba.

Being mostly a social holiday, some families celebrate it alongside Christmas or other religious commemorations, and it has gained a worldwide popularity in recent years.


What are the main traditions of Kwanzaa?

Every family celebrates Kwanzaa in a different and unique way, yet some basic rituals are shared amongst all the practitioners. One of the main traditions of Kwanzaa is the candle-lighting ceremony. Much like in Hanukah, families use a large candelabrum, called kinara, where they place seven candles: three red ones, three green ones and a black candle in the center.

Each candle represents one of the seven principles of African culture –unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith-, and each one is lighted throughout the week, usually by a child.  

Another important ritual consists in drinking from the unity cup –kikombe cha umoja- and making a libation in honor of their ancestors. This occurs on the 6th day of the celebration, when the family gathers for the Karamu feast. Then, on the 7th day, celebrations conclude by exchanging gifts.

During Kwanzaa, the table must be decorated with a colorful mat –mkeka- and different foods which represent their history and celebrate fertility.



You might also like:


History. Kwanzaa. http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/kwanzaa-history
Infoplease. Kwanzaa. http://www.infoplease.com/spot/kwanzaa1.html
Official Kwanzaa Website. Kwanzaa. http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/