Kelli Drummer-Avendano

The holiday season is here! Many different celebrations take place this time of year, and Kwanzaa is one of them. Possibly the newest holiday, Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration, not a religious one. Here are five important facts about this holiday:

1. It began in 1966.  

African American professor Maulana Karenga introduced the celebration of Kwanzaa in 1966 as a way for African Americans and other Africans from the diaspora to celebrate their common identity. The holiday is purposefully nonreligious, allowing Africans of all faiths to enjoy their shared heritage. The word Kwanzaa comes from a phrase in Swahili meaning “first fruits.” 

2. It’s celebrated for seven days.

Kwanzaa lasts from December 26th to January 1st. Each of the seven days is dedicated to one of the Seven Principles. They are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. These principles are a representation of African values and traditions. 

3. Seven symbols are positioned around the home.

To reinforce the fundamental principles of African culture, the family makes use of seven symbols.  A woven placemat represents a strong family. A candleholder with seven candles represents the parents, while the candles themselves signify the Seven Principles. A unity cup is filled with libations as an offering to a god, spirit, or deceased loved one. There is an ear of corn for each child in the family who is celebrating. To represent a good harvest, the family puts out a bowl of fruit and vegetables. Lastly, gifts are given to the children as a way to thank them for keeping their promises throughout the year. 

4. Every celebration is different.

Families create their own traditions when celebrating Kwanzaa, but they generally include the following festivities: decorations, songs, dancing, crafts, African drumming, poetry readings, and a large feast. On the last day, families often celebrate together by sharing a traditional meal and reflecting on what the holiday means to them.

5. History is important.

At the time when Kwanzaa was created, African Americans in the United States were facing systematic discrimination and oppression. Maulana Karenga believed that this celebration of life could reconnect African Americans to their identity and to African culture. It is not meant to replace any religious holiday, such as Christmas; rather, it is meant to inspire a sense of pride in a shared heritage.

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