Kwanzaa Celebrates African Heritage in African American Culture

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Kwanzaa Is About Community

African American mother and daughter celebrate Kwanzaa in traditional clothing.Kwanzaa has been celebrated in the US since the mid-1960s, but it is not nearly as well-known as other December holidays. Created against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement and intended to celebrate African heritage in African American culture, Kwanzaa encourages African Americans to “define and uplift” themselves. Celebrants pay tribute to their African roots and honor traditions and values of African culture. The festival runs from December 26 through January 1 and concludes with a family or community gathering in the spirit of traditional African harvest festivals – very much like Thanksgiving.

The Number Seven and Its Significance to Kwanzaa

There are seven principles or “values” associated with Kwanzaa. Each of the seven days of the festival has its own unique name and theme.

  • Umoja (Unity)
  • Kujichagulia (Self-determination)
  • Ujima (Collaboration)
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative economics – do business with your neighbor)
  • Nia (Living with purpose)
  • Kuumba (Creativity)
  • Imani (Faith)

Kwanzaa Colors

Just as Christmas is associated with red and green, and Hanukkah with blue and white, Kwanzaa has its own color palette. Kwanzaa colors represent the unity of people of African descent throughout the world. Black represents the people themselves, red represents their noble blood, and green represents the land of Africa.

Kwanzaa At Home

Candles are central to Kwanzaa celebrations. A candelabra called a “kinari” holds seven candles – one for each night. Three candles are red, three are green, and one is black. Each represents one day’s value or principle. The kinari is placed on a mat called a “mkeka” along with several other items, including corn to represent the harvest, a cup called ” ikombe cha Umoja” which honors African ancestors, and gifts for friends and family called “zawadi.”

All Are Welcome

People from all ethnic and racial backgrounds are welcome to learn about and join in celebration of Kwanzaa. This uplifting celebration of family and community is a lovely way to close out the year on a positive note.