kwanzaa kinaraKwanzaa, which runs from December 26th through January 1st, is a holiday that celebrates African American heritage and culture.

The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal.

The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili) are a set of ideals created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. Each of the principles contribute to building and reinforcing community. During the seven days of Kwanzaa, light a candle and discuss the principle for that day. On December 31, gifts are exchanged and an African feast, called a Karamu, is held.

Seven symbols are used to decorate the Kwanzaa table. The Mkeka is a straw or cloth place mat that represents history, culture, and tradition. The Kinara has seven branches; each one holds the Mishumaa Saba, the seven candles. Mazao, or crops such as fruit, nuts, and vegetables, represent the community’s productivity. The Kikombe cha Umoja is a special cup used to pour Tambiko, which is the libation to the ancestors.

The Muhindi are ears of corn. Place one ear of corn on the table for each child; if there are no children, place two ears to represent the children of the community. The Zawadi are meaningful gifts, generally given to the children, to encourage growth, self-determination, achievement, and success. Handmade gifts are encouraged.

The Nguzo Saba

One candle is lit each evening and the appropriate principle is discussed. On the first night, the black candle in the center is lit, and the first principle is discussed.

December 26 – Umoja (oo–MO–jah)
Unity: To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

December 27 – Kujichagulia (koo–gee–cha–goo–LEE–yah)
Self-determination: To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

December 28 – Ujima (oo–GEE–mah)
Collective Work and Responsibility: To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

December 29 – Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah)
Cooperative Economics: To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

December 30 – Nia (nee–YAH)
Purpose: To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

December 31 – Kuumba (koo–OOM–bah)
Creativity: To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

January 1 – Imani (ee–MAH–nee)
Faith: To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Habari Gani

During Kwanzaa, greet everyone by saying “Habari Gani.” This Swahili greeting means “What’s the news?” If someone greets you, respond with the principle (Nguzo Saba) for that day. If you don’t know the principle for the day, you might respond by simply saying “Njema,” (in–GEE–ma) which means good.


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