Many of us celebrate this season in different ways. While many celebrate Christmas, we pray your festivities will also incorporate family and some of the Kwanzaa principles whether you celebrate the specific holiday or not.
What is Kwanzaa?
Kwanzaa is an annual holiday celebrated primarily by African Americans beginning the day after Christmas, December 26th, through January 1st. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” meaning “first fruits” in Swahili. The holiday was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, to bring African Americans together with a culmination of African traditions. The tradition is a blend of several different harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and Zulu tribes.
There are seven principles of Kwanzaa:
- Umoja (oo–MO–jah) – Unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
- Kujichagulia (koo–gee–cha–goo–LEE–yah) – Self-determination: Define, name, create for, and speak for ourselves.
- Ujima (oo–GEE–mah) – Collective Work and Responsibility: Build and maintain our community together; Our brother’s and sister’s problems are our problems and we solve them together.
- Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah) – Cooperative Economics: Build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and profit from them together.
- Nia (nee–YAH) – Purpose: Our collective vocation is the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
- Kuumba (koo–OOM–bah) – Creativity: Always do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
- Imani (ee–MAH–nee) – Faith: Believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
What do I need to celebrate?
That’s the beauty, nothing but spirit and contemplation are truly needed to celebrate this holiday. The intention is simply to be intentional about supporting each other and the Black community. If you would like to celebrate with traditional items however, here is a list of what is needed:
- Mkeka: The Mkeka mat is the foundation of the Kwanzaa table.
- Kinara: Candleholder as the centerpiece of the Kwanzaa table. It holds the Mishumaa Saba, or the seven candles intended for the celebration.
- Mishumaa Saba: The seven candles (one black, three red, and three green)
- Kikombe cha Umoja: The unity cup can be any large cup or chalice. Everyone you celebrate generally would sip from the cup at the celebrations, but in COVID times it’s best to all drink at the same time rather than from the same cup!
- Mazao: The harvest. This is generally represented with fruits or vegetables on the Kwanzaa table laid on the Mkeka.
- Muhindi: The corn that represents children or abundance. Traditionally, you have one ear of corn to represent each child in the house, plus one additional ear.
- Zawadi: These are gifts that are usually handmade, educational, or purchased from a black-owned business.
How do I celebrate?
Habari Gani is Swahili for “what’s the news” and the proper response is the principle of the day. For example, today one would say “Habari Gani?” and the response would be “Umoja!”
Each day (normally in the evening), the day’s principle is discussed among your family, blood or chosen, and then a candle is lit. The order of lighting the candles is as follows:
- Day One: The unity (black) candle
- Day Two: The first red candle to the right of the unity candle is lit to represent Kujichagulia
- Day Three: The first green candle to the left of the unity candle is lit to represent Ujima
- Day Four-Seven: Alternate red and green to represent the remaining principles
I’m Christian though, can I still celebrate?
Short answer: Yes! Kwanzaa is not a holiday tied to any particular religion but rather a cultural holiday to be celebrated in a unified and communal manner.
For more information, you can watch a video here, and if you have children under 10, this video might be good for them.
We would like to wish everyone a happy holiday season and Happy Kwanzaa!