Kwanzaa - Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Special Interest Cultural

What is Kwanzaa

Heri Za Kwanzaa! Kwanzaa, celebrated from December 26 to January 1, is an African American and pan-African seven day cultural holiday that celebrates family and community. During the holiday, families celebrate with feasts, music, and dance, and end the holiday with a day dedicated to reflection and recommitment to the seven principles. 

History of Kwanzaa

Professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, Dr. Maulana Karenga, created Kwanzaa in 1966 in the midst of the Black Freedom Movement, reflecting concerns for cultural grounding in thought and practice. After the Watts riots in LA, Dr. Karenga looked for ways to strengthen the African-American community. He founded US, a cultural organization, and started to research African “first fruit” (harvest) celebrations. Karenga combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and those of the Zulu, to form the basis of Kwanzaa.
The name Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” meaning “first fruits” in Swahili. Swahili is considered a pan-African language, and also happens to be the most widely spoken language in Africa. Basing the language of the holiday in Swahili represents unity throughout the African and black communities.
The first fruits celebrations are recorded in African history as far back as ancient Egypt and Nubia and appear in ancient and modern times in other classical African civilizations such as Ashantiland and Yorubaland. Kwanzaa developed as a flourishing branch of the African American life and struggle as a recreated and expanded ancient tradition. It draws from the cultures of various African people, and is celebrated by millions of African and African Americans throughout the nation. 
Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in their own way, but celebrations often include song and dance, African drums, storytelling, poetry readings, and a large traditional meal. On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the kinara, then one of the seven principles, called Nguzo Saba, is discussed. These principles are values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing community among African Americans. 

Kwanzaa timeline


A widespread holiday

Public Policy Polling found that 12.5 million Americans celebrate Kwanzaa.


A cultural celebration

Karenga, who originally offered Kwanzaa as an alternative to Christmas, declared Kwanzaa as a non-religious celebration of family, community, and culture so that people wouldn't feel alienated and would be able to celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa. 


Hallmark gets in on Kwanzaa

The first Kwanzaa Hallmark card was sold.


The beginning of Kwanzaa

Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa as a response to the Watts riots. 

Kwanzaa FAQs

What is Kwanzaa and why is it celebrated?

Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday that celebrates culture, life, and unity, introduced by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966.

What are the seven principles of Kwanzaa?

The seven principles of Kwanzaa are Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). 

What are Kwanzaa traditions?

Some Kwanzaa traditions include wearing traditional African clothing, letting the a child light the candle for each of the seven days, and decorating your home with the symbols of Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa Statistics

4% of Americans Celebrate
A study from Public Policy Polling found that 4% of Americans said they celebrate or primarily celebrate Kwanzaa during the holiday season, which is close to Chanukah’s 5%, but way less than the 90% who celebrate Christmas. However, 4% of Americans is still over 12.5 million people. For some families, Kwanzaa is the main winter celebration in their household, while others celebrate Kwanzaa along with Christmas or other winter holidays. 
7 Days
Kwanzaa lasts for seven days. Since it’s inception in 1966 the holiday has grown in impact within the African American community and is recognized as an official holiday. Other countries, like Canada, Jamaica, and Brazil, have gained interest in Kwanzaa but don’t celebrate it to the extent as America does.
$77 in gifts
The average amount spent on Kwanzaa gift shopping per person is about $77. This is because only children receive gifts for Kwanzaa. These gifts usually consist of a book and a heritage symbol, allowing the total price to be feasible, as many people also have already spent a lot of money on Christmas shopping. 

How to Observe Kwanzaa

  1. Get in the spirit with African decor

    No holiday is complete without decorations! To get in the Kwanzaa spirit, decorate your home with African art, cloths such as kente, and fresh fruits that represent African idealism.

  2. Learn some Swahili

    Swahili is a language spoken throughout Africa, and therefore unites all who celebrate Kwanzaa. One of the most important Swahili words to know are the names of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). 

  3. Pick up a drum

    Many families celebrate Kwanzaa by playing music and singing cultural African or African-American songs. Pick up a drum, or any percussive instrument brought out for the celebration, and join in on the musical fun!

Why Kwanzaa is Important

  1. It promotes unity

    Kwanzaa was birthed as a response to the Watts riots, which occurred as a reaction to longstanding racial injustice in America. The holiday was made by Dr. Maulana Karenga to bring African Americans together as a community in a celebration of identity.

  2. It's for the culture

    Kwanzaa is considered a cultural holiday rather than a religious celebration, meaning that even if you participate in Kwanzaa festivities, you can still celebrate the winter holidays that fall under your religion. Many households will have both a kinara and a Christmas tree in their living room at the same time. 

  3. It allows people to experience a connection to their roots

    Many people in the African American community, and other nations of the African diaspora in the Americas, find that Kwanzaa makes them feel closer to their roots. Celebrating a holiday based in ancient African tradition allows participants to experience a grounding connection to Africa. 

Also on Tue Dec 26, 2023...

Boxing Day
Dec 26
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