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Kwanzaa, The African American Holiday You Might Not Know About

Habari Gani! Or "What's New!" is the holiday greeting for Black folx celebrating Kwanzaa. Meaning "first fruit" in Swahili, Kwanzaa is a pan-African cultural holiday celebrated every year from December 26 - January 1. The holiday was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Ronald Karenga with the purpose of celebrating and uplifting Black families, community, and culture, through a "synthesis of both Continental African and Diasporan African cultural elements" (Flores- Peña and Evanchuck, 1997, p, 282). Elizabeth Pleck (2001) wrote that Kwanzaa was "designed to resemble the ritual at an African harvest festival [and] consists of a number of activities from feasting and lighting candles to recitations and the giving of small gifts to children" (p. 3).

The purpose of this holiday is to foster a celebration and awareness of the socio-historical elements of African American and African culture and traditions. Dr. Karenga recounted that Kwanzaa was an amalgamation of "values and practices [...] selected from peoples from all parts of Africa - South, North, West, and East - in a true spirit of Pan-Africanism" (Karenga, 1988, p. 15). He outlines five essential values and practices that influenced his creation of the holiday that would bring members of the community together: 1. ingathering; 2. reverence; 3. commemoration; 4. recommitment; and 5. celebration (Karenga, 1988, p. 17). These tenets then influenced the Nguzo Saba or seven principles that mark each day of the week long holiday. The Nguzo Saba hold a special meaning to the holiday and are to be a reminder to members of the African American community.

"The Nguzo Saba [...] are the core and consciousness of Kwanzaa. They are posed as the matrix and minimum set of values African Americans need to rescue and reconstruct in their life in their own image and interest and build and sustain an Afrocentric family, community, and culture" (Karenga, 1988, p. 43 and Flores-Peña & Evanchuk, 1997, p. 232).

The Nguzo Saba are:

1. Umoja (unity) - December 26

2. Kujichagulia (self-determination) - December 27

3. Ujima (collective work and responsibility) - December 28

4. Ujamaa (cooperative economics) - December 29

5. Nia (purpose) - December 30

6. Kuumba (creativity) - December 31

7. Imani (faith) - January 1

How Is It Celebrated?

There are several symbols associated with the celebration of Kwanzaa. A table is set with the mkeka or straw mat, which represents the foundation upon which the seven principles are built. Placed upon the mat is the mazao or bowl of crops, such as fruits and nuts that represent the rewards of unity and harvest. The kinara or candelabra holds the mishumaa saba or seven ceremonial candles, 3 green, 3 red, and one black, each representing one day of Kwanzaa. The kikombe (unity cup) is a symbol of unity, the muhindi (ears of corn) are representative of each of the children in the household and the zawadi (gifts) represent labor and love and are presented to the children. There is a feast or karamu held to celebrate the holiday, not to be combined with other celebrations, where art, music, dancing, poetry, and readings are shared and reaffirm commitment to one's community throughout the new year.

Where Can You Find Kwanzaa Events?

New Jersey

December 28th

December 30th

New York

December 26th

Kwanzaa Crawl 2019 - celebrating Black Economic Power (read the Essence article here)

December 28th

American Museum of Natural History - a one night event celebrating Kwanzaa

The Apollo - Kwanza: Regeneration Night

December 26th - December 30th

Brooklyn Children's Museum - Celebrate Kwanza!

Watch & Learn

How Can You Teach Your Children About Kwanza?

I have gathered some resources here to help teach the young people in your life about Kwanzaa.





Flores-Peña, Y., & Evanchuk, R. (1997). Kwanzaa: The emergence of an African-American holiday. Western folklore, 56(3/4), 281-294.

Karenga, M. (1988). The African American holiday of Kwanzaa: A celebration of family, community & culture. Univ of Sankore Pr.

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