Kwanzaa (/ˈkwɑːn.zə/) is a celebration held in the United States
and in other nations of the
African diaspora in the Americas and lasts
a week. The celebration honors African heritage in African-American
culture and is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in
a feast and gift-giving.
Kwanzaa has seven core principles (Nguzo
Saba). It was created by
Maulana Karenga and was first celebrated in
1 History and etymology
2 Principles and symbols
5 See also
7 External links
History and etymology
Maulana Karenga, also known as Ronald McKinley Everett, created
Kwanzaa in 1966, as the first specifically African-American
holiday, (but see also Juneteenth). According to Karenga, the name
Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning
"first fruits of the harvest", although a more conventional
translation would simply be "first fruits". The choice of Swahili, an
East African language, reflects its status as a symbol of
Pan-Africanism, especially in the 1960s, although most of the Atlantic
slave trade that brought African people to America originated in West
Africa. First fruits festivals exist in Southern Africa,
celebrated in December/January with the southern solstice, and Karenga
was partly inspired by an account he read of the Zulu festival Umkhosi
Wokweshwama. It was decided to spell the holiday's name with an
additional "a" so that it would have a symbolic seven letters.
Kwanzaa is a celebration with its roots in the black nationalist
movement of the 1960s. Karenga established it to help African
Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical
heritage by uniting in meditation and study of African traditions and
Nguzo Saba, the "seven principles of African Heritage," which Karenga
said "is a communitarian African philosophy." For Karenga, a major
figure in the
Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the
creation of such holidays also underscored an essential premise "you
must have a cultural revolution before the violent revolution. The
cultural revolution gives identity, purpose and direction."
During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga said it was meant to be an
alternative to Christmas. He believed Jesus was psychotic and
Christianity was a "white" religion black people should shun.
Kwanzaa gained mainstream adherents, Karenga altered his
position so practicing Christians would not be alienated, then stating
in the 1997, Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture,
Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own
religion or religious holiday." Many
African Americans who
Kwanzaa do so in addition to observing Christmas.
Principles and symbols
Kwanzaa celebration with its founder and others
Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of
Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba—the seven principles
of African Heritage), which Karenga said "is a communitarian African
philosophy," consisting of what Karenga called "the best of African
thought and practice in constant exchange with the world." These seven
principles comprise Kawaida, a Swahili word meaning "common". Each of
the seven days of
Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following
principles, as follows:
Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family,
community, nation, and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define and name ourselves, as
well as to create and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our
community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our
problems and to solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores,
shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and
developing of our community in order to restore our people to their
Kuumba (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.
Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our
parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory
of our struggle.
Kwanzaa celebratory symbols include a mat (Mkeka) on which other
symbols are placed: a
Kinara (candle holder), Mishumaa Saba (seven
candles), mazao (crops), Muhindi (corn), a Kikombe cha Umoja (unity
cup) for commemorating and giving shukrani (thanks) to African
Ancestors, and Zawadi (gifts). Supplemental representations include a
Nguzo Saba poster, the black, red, and green bendera (flag), and
African books and artworks – all to represent values and concepts
reflective of African culture and contribution to community building
Corn is the primary symbol for both decoration
and celebratory dining.
A woman lighting kinara candles
Kwanzaa decorate their households with objects of
art, colorful African cloth such as kente, especially the wearing of
kaftans by women, and fresh fruits that represent African idealism. It
is customary to include children in
Kwanzaa ceremonies and to give
respect and gratitude to ancestors.
Libations are shared, generally
with a common chalice, Kikombe cha Umoja, passed around to all
African Americans also celebrate Kwanzaa. The
holiday greeting is "Joyous Kwanzaa".
Kwanzaa ceremony may include drumming and musical selections,
libations, a reading of the African Pledge and the Principles of
Blackness, reflection on the Pan-African colors, a discussion of the
African principle of the day or a chapter in African history, a
candle-lighting ritual, artistic performance, and, finally, a feast
(karamu). The greeting for each day of
Kwanzaa is Habari Gani?
which is Swahili for "How are you?"
At first, observers of
Kwanzaa avoided the mixing of the holiday or
its symbols, values, and practice with other holidays, as doing so
would violate the principle of kujichagulia (self-determination) and
thus violate the integrity of the holiday, which is partially intended
as a reclamation of important African values. Today, many African
American families celebrate
Kwanzaa along with
Christmas and New
Year's. Frequently, both
Christmas trees and kinaras, the
traditional candle holder symbolic of African American roots, share
space in Kwanzaa-celebrating households. For people who celebrate both
Kwanzaa is an opportunity to incorporate elements of their
particular ethnic heritage into holiday observances and celebrations
Cultural exhibitions include the Spirit of Kwanzaa, an annual
celebration held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
featuring interpretive dance, African dance, song and
National Retail Federation has sponsored a marketing survey on
winter holidays since 2004, and in 2015 found that 1.9% of those
polled planned to celebrate
Kwanzaa – about six million people.
In a 2006 speech,
Maulana Karenga asserted that 28 million people
celebrate Kwanzaa. He has always claimed it is celebrated all over the
world. Lee D. Baker puts the number at 12 million. The African
American Cultural Center claimed 30 million in 2009.
University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota Professor Keith Mayes, the author
Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday
Tradition, the popularity within the U.S. has "leveled off" as the
black power movement there has declined, and as of 2009 between 500
thousand and two million Americans celebrated Kwanzaa, or between one
and five percent of African Americans. Mayes added that white
institutions now celebrate it.
Starting in the 1990s, the holiday became increasingly commercialized,
with the first Hallmark Card being sold in 1992, and there has
been concern about this damaging the holiday's values. The holiday
also saw a greater public recognition as the first
designed by Synthia Saint James, was issued by the
United States Post
Office in 1997, and in the same year
Bill Clinton gave the first
presidential declaration marking the holiday.
The holiday has also spread to Canada and is celebrated by Black
Canadians in a similar fashion as in the United States. According
to the Language
Portal of Canada, "this fairly new tradition has
[also] gained in popularity in France, Great Britain, Jamaica and
In Brazil, in recent years the term
Kwanzaa has been applied by a few
institutions as a synonym for the festivities of the Black Awareness
Day, commemorated on November 20 in honor of Zumbi dos
Palmares, having little to do with the celebration as it was
Stjepan Meštrović, a sociology professor at the Texas A&M
Kwanzaa as an example of postmodernism. According to
Meštrović, modern society has discarded ancient traditions as
racist, sexist or otherwise oppressive, but since living in a world
where nothing is true is too terrifying to most people, "nice" and
"synthetic" traditions like
Kwanzaa have been created to cope with the
nihilistic, individualistic modern society.
Maya Angelou narrated a documentary film about Kwanzaa, The Black
Candle, written and directed by
M.K. Asante, Jr.
M.K. Asante, Jr. and featuring Chuck
Dashiki – a shirt or suit worn during
^ a b "Why
Kwanzaa Video". "Maulana Karenga". Retrieved December 27,
^ Alexander, Ron (December 30, 1983). "The Evening Hours". New York
Times". Retrieved December 15, 2006.
^ Holly Hartman. "
Kwanzaa – Honoring the values of ancient African
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^ "The Atlantic Slave Trade - Herbert S. Klein - Google Books".
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^ Mugane, John M. (2015-07-15). The Story of Swahili. Ohio University
Press. p. 6. ISBN 9780896804890.
^ Mayes, Keith A. (2009-09-10). Kwanzaa:
Black Power and the Making of
the African-American Holiday Tradition. Routledge. p. 84.
^ Mayes, Keith A. (2009-09-10). Kwanzaa:
Black Power and the Making of
the African-American Holiday Tradition. Routledge. p. 228.
^ Mayes, Keith A. (2009). Kwanzaa:
Black Power and the Making of the
African-American Holiday Tradition. pp. 63–65.
ISBN 978-0415998550. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
^ Karenga, Maulana (1967). "Religion". In Clyde Halisi, James Mtume.
The quotable Karenga. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press. pp.
^ Karenga, Maulana (1997). Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community
and Culture. University of Sankore Press. p. 121.
^ Williams, Lena (December 20, 1990). "In Blacks' Homes, the Christmas
Kwanzaa Spirits Meet". The New York Times. Retrieved May 7,
^ Karenga, Maulana (2008). "Nguzo Saba". The Official
Site. Retrieved 2017-12-30.
^ Angaza, Maitefa (2007).
Kwanzaa – From Holiday to Every Day: A
complete guide for making
Kwanzaa a part of your life. New York:
Dafina Books. p. 56. ISBN 0758216653.
^ "The Symbols of Kwanzaa". The Official
Kwanzaa Website. Retrieved
January 9, 2016.
^ a b Scott, Megan K. (December 17, 2009). "
continue, but boom is over, popularity fading". The Plain Dealer.
Associated Press. Retrieved December 24, 2017.
^ Bush, George W. (December 23, 2004). "Presidential
2004". Office of the Press Secretary. Retrieved December 24,
^ "Clinton offers holiday messages". CNN. December 23, 1997. Retrieved
December 24, 2007.
^ Gale, Elaine (December 26, 1998). "Appeal of
Kwanzaa continues to
grow; holidays: today marks start of the seven-day celebration of
African culture, which began in Watts 32 years ago and is now observed
by millions". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 24, 2007.
^ "The Founder's Message 2000". The Official
Kwanzaa Web Site.
Retrieved December 27, 2016.
^ "Useful Swahili phrases". Omniglot.com. Retrieved December 27,
Kwanzaa (until Jan 1) in the United States". Timeanddate.com.
Retrieved December 27, 2016.
^ "The Spirit of
Kwanzaa - The John F. Kennedy Center for the
Performing Arts". Kennedy-center.org. Retrieved December 27,
^ "Dance Institute of Washington". Web.archive.org. February 21, 2001.
Archived from the original on February 21, 2001. Retrieved October 25,
2017. CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
^ "KWANZAA FEATURED ON THIS YEAR'S HOLIDAY U.S. POSTAGE STAMP".
Web.archive.org. October 19, 2004. Archived from the original on
October 19, 2004. Retrieved October 25, 2017. CS1 maint: BOT:
original-url status unknown (link)
^ "Prosper Insights & Analytics™, Monthly Consumer Survey,
OCT-15" (PDF). National Retail Federation. October 2015.
^ Manning Marable, Dispatches from the Ebony Tower, p. 224.
Kwanzaa celebration unites African-American community", The Post,
Ohio University, November 1, 2011. Accessed December 31, 2014.
^ Mayes, Keith A. (2009). Kwanzaa:
Black Power and the Making of the
African-American Black Holiday Tradition. Taylor & Francis.
p. 248. ISBN 9780415998543.
^ Martin, Douglas (December 20, 1993). "The Marketing of Kwanzaa;
Black American Holiday Earns Dollars, Causing Concern". The New York
Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 24, 2017.
Kwanzaa worries enthusiasts". The Billings Gazette.
Retrieved December 24, 2017.
^ "William J. Clinton: Message on the Observance of Kwanzaa, 1997".
www.presidency.ucsb.edu. Retrieved 2017-12-31.
^ Pleck, Elizabeth (2001). "Kwanzaa: The Making of a Black Nationalist
Tradition, 1966-1990". Journal of American Ethnic History. 20 (4):
^ "The principles of Kwanzaa". CBC. December 28, 1993. Retrieved
December 16, 2011.
^ "Celebrate Kwanzaa!". Government of Canada. February 21, 2011.
Retrieved December 16, 2011.
Portal da Prefeitura da Cidade de São Paulo".
Prefeitura.sp.gov.br. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
^ S. G. Mestrovic (January 2000). "Postemotional Law". Ro.uow.edu.au.
Retrieved December 27, 2016.
Kwanzaa Celebration Captured In 'Black Candle'". National Public
Radio. December 15, 2008.
Chuck D and
Maya Angelou in
Kwanzaa Documentary". Essence. December
The Black Candle: a
Kwanzaa film narrated by Maya Angelou
Kwanzaa was created by Karenga
The History Channel: Kwanzaa
Interview: Karenga discusses the evolution of the holiday and its
meaning. Tavis Smiley (NPR)
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See also: Lists of holidays, Hallmark holidays, public holidays in the
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