In the spirit of the holidays at this time of year,
I decided it was time to learn more about Kwanzaa.
All I really knew about Kwanzaa was that it was
a celebration created in the 1960’s and was based
in African culture. I have great respect for anyone
who takes the time to create something meaningful
to help others focus on what is truly important
in life. That’s what I thought Kwanzaa may be…
Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase for
“first fruits.” For seven nights, families gather
for a traditional meal, music and storytelling or
poetry-reading based around the seven principles
of the celebration…African-American cultural
values which help to nurture strength and community.
Kwanzaa was indeed created in the 1960’s in the U.S.
by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor in California
who more recently, in 1995, helped write the
mission statement for the Million Man March,
one of the most important and most emotional
national events in African-American history.
Re-Focus and Re-Group
Karenga believed that for a displaced and
disenfranchised group of people to restore
a sense of place, strength, and community,
a celebration of their heritage could allow
them a chance to refocus and re-group.
In much the same way that Christmas
and Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights
celebrations allow people to re-focus their
thoughts and actions based on shared beliefs
and principles, so does Kwanzaa.
Principles to Live By
The 7 Principles of Kwanzaa, Nguzo Saba,
and the symbols used in the celebration :
1. Unity – in the family, community, nation, and race
*Symbol : Mazao, the crops
2. Self-Determination – to decide who you are,
how you will be called, how you will have a voice
*Symbol: Mkeka, the placemat
3. Collective Work & Responsibility – to strengthen
the community and solve problems collectively
*Symbol : Vibunzi, ear of corn
4. Cooperative Economics – to maintain and support
stores and businesses to strengthen community
*Symbol : Mishumaa Saba, the seven candles
5. Purpose – the building and support of community
*Symbol: Kinara, the candleholder
6. Creativity – to leave the community a better place
*Symbol : Kikombe Cha Umoja, the unity cup
7. Faith – to believe in the righteousness of the struggle
*Symbol : Zawadi, gifts
All About Kwanzaa
Although originally celebrated as an alternative to
the traditional holidays, Kwanzaa is now often
observed along with Christmas and New Year’s as
it begins on December 26th and ends on January 1st.
It is estimated that somewhere between 12 and
30 million people will celebrate Kwanzaa.
Maya Angelou narrated an award-winning 2009
documentary, The Black Candle, about the struggle
of African-Americans to restore a sense of pride in
their families, communities, and larger culture.
What Kwanzaa Has To Do With Me
The principles of Kwanzaa are helpful and
positive, whether interpreted strictly as a way
to strengthen African-American community or
interpreted more broadly as ideals for each of
us to pay attention to all year round. The idea
that we are all one, that we need to support one
another, and leave our communities better places
than they were before we became a part of them
resonates with me. The idea that it is up to each
of us to determine for ourselves who we are, what
we stand for, and how we will have a voice is one
I whole-heartedly support. So, although I will
still celebrate my traditional holiday,
I have a better appreciation for the origins and
meaning behind Kwanzaa and can keep this in
mind as I go through the holidays this season.
I hope you will, too! 🙂
To learn more about Kwanzaa, click here!