Kwanza – African-American & pan African holiday

Kwanza is an African-American and pan African holiday that celebrates family, community, and culture. It is a seven day cultural festival from December 26 to January 1. Kwanza was created by Maulana Karenga (professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University). It is first celebrated in 1966 in the United States to welcome the first harvest to the home. It is rooted in both the cultural values and practice of Africans on the Continent and in the U.S. Kwanzaa is a synthesis in the sense that it is based, in both conception and self-conscious commitment, on tradition and reason. Kwanzaa has similarities with Thanksgiving. The name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning “first fruits of the harvest”.

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History of Kwanza

In 1966, Dr. Karenga searched for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community. He founded in the 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. During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga has said it has meant to be an alternative to Christmas. As Kwanzaa gained mainstream adherents, Karenga altered his position so practicing Christians would not be alienated. After its initial creation in California, Kwanzaa spread outside the United States.


Families and communities organize activities around the Nguzu Saba (The Seven Principles): Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).

Kwanzaa has seven basic symbols: Mkeka (the Mat), Mazao (the Crops), Kinara (The Candle Holder), Muhindi (The Corn), Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup), Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles), and Zawadi (The Gifts). Supplementary symbols include Bendera (The Flag) and Nguzo Saba Poster.

Families decorate their households with objects of art and women wear kaftans. A table has spread with a beautiful piece of African cloth called Kente. Then, the Mkeka (mat) has placed down and all of the other symbols have placed on it or immediately next to it to symbolize rootedness in tradition. Next, the Kinara (candleholder) has placed on the mat and the Mishumaa Saba (seven candles) are placed in the Kinara. The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red, and green; black for the people, red for their struggle, and green for the future and hope that comes from their struggle. Therefore, there is one black candle, three red and three green candles.

The first night, the black candle in the center has lit. One candle has lit each evening. Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its way, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, 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 (candleholder), then one of the seven principles is discussed. Moreover, the principles are values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing community among African-Americans.

Also read, ALBUQUERQUE Festival.

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