The Celebration of Kwanzaa

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Have you wondered what the Kwanzaa celebration involves?

Kwanzaa, the African American harvest and annual holiday, is a weeklong celebration from December 26 through January 1.

Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, founded Kwanzaa in 1966. According to, Karenga wanted to unite the African-American community, following the Watts riots in Los Angeles.

“As an African American and Pan-African holiday celebrated by millions throughout the world…Kwanzaa brings a cultural message which speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense.” The Official Kwanzaa Website explains. Kwanzaa

South Florida celebrants look forward to sharing their African American heritage at this time.
Lisa Jackson, librarian at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale said, “It’s a celebration of unity, culture, family, and community.”

Koffi Ayi of Boca Raton agrees. “It is more of a cultural celebration and keeping the traditions of the African culture alive.”

To get into the spirit of Kwanzaa, one must decorate their home accordingly. It is customary to start by setting the table with a green tablecloth in the center of your home upon which a Mkeka, a straw or woven mat symbolizing African ancestry, is placed.

The seven days of Kwanzaa represent seven core values and nightly rituals are observed.
The main staple is lighting the Kinara. The candle-lighting ceremony draws everyone together to discuss the meaning of the holiday. Ayi enjoys “giving thanks and eating together with the family or tribe.”

The Seven Days of Kwanzaa:

Day one represents Umoja or Unity. The black candle is lit, and the Unity cup is filled with fruit juice and shared among participants. A passage or poem relating to the principle or one’s personal connection may also be shared. “The Unity part of Kwanzaa is the most important part for African Americans in the U.S.,” Ayi said.

Day two represents Kujichagulia or Self-Determination. As it pertains to Kwanzaa, this principle means to define, name, and speak for ourselves.

Day three represents Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility. As stated on the website, “We must build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and solve them together.” It is customary to work on a project as a family and donate to goodwill. The green candlelight signifies accomplishments as well as failings.

Day four represents Ujamaa or Collective Economics, which supports working together and sharing profits to build community.

Day five represents Nia or Purpose, encouraging one to set personal goals, as well as community goals.

Day six represents Kuumba or Creativity. Families put up extra decorations, don colorful outfits, listen to music and share stories.

Coinciding with New Year’s Eve, the Kwanzaa Karamu or Feast is enjoyed with friends and family.

Day seven represents Imani or Faith. According to, “This principle focuses on honoring the best of our traditions, draws upon the best in ourselves, and helps us strive for a higher level of life for humankind.”

Symbols of Kwanzaa include:
Mazao – fruit or crops placed in a bowl, representing the community’s productivity.
Kinara – a seven-pronged candle-holder.
Mishumaa Saba – the seven candles which represent the seven core principles of Kwanzaa. Three candles on the left are red, representing struggle; three on the right are green, representing hope; and one in the center is black, signifying the African American people or those who draw their heritage from Africa.
Muhindi – ears of corn.
Zawadi – gifts for the children.
Kikombe cha Umoja -Unity cup representing family and community.
Visit for the candle lighting order.

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