Kwanzaa – Another Significant Component of ‘The Holidays’

The normal focus on the long holiday season that commences on Thanksgiving Day through New Year’s Day is on Christmas, but another significant commemorative season, one of importance in the African- and Caribbean-American communities is the seven-day celebration, Kwanzaa.  

Over the years, this holiday has attracted more importance and recognition in South Florida as more African and Caribbean Americans understand the meaning of the celebration. 

Kwanzaa begins on December 26 and continues for seven days through to January 1. The celebration originated in 1966, founded by Doctor Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University to celebrate African-American cultural heritage over seven days. It was Karenga’s objective to give African Americans an alternative holiday to Christmas, to “give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply dominate the practice of the dominant society.”

The name Kwanzaa is adapted from a Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits,” and the celebration is based on the following seven principles:

Umoja (Unity): Striving for and maintaining unity in the family, community, nation and race. 

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): Defining and naming ourselves, creating and speaking for ourselves. 

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): Building and maintaining our community, making our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and solving them together. 

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): Building, maintaining our own stores, shops and other businesses, and profit from them together.

Nia (Purpose): Making our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness. 

Kuumba (Creativity): Always doing 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): Believing with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle. 


These principles, Nguzo Saba, correspond to Karenga’s theme that “the sevenfold path of blackness is think black, talk black, act black, create black, buy black, vote black, and live black.”  The seven principles are also intended to serve as guideposts for meditation and daily living. 

Kwanzaa also incorporates seven symbols from African culture that have a significant ritualistic meaning. The seven symbols are:

Mazao (fruits, vegetables, and nuts), mkeba (placemat, representing as our foundation, ancestors and cultural history as a people).

Kinara (candleholder), vibunzi or muhindi (ears of corn, one for each child in the family).

Zawadi (gifts, usually made or selected to represent the principle of the day).

Kikombe cha umoja (communal cup of unity), and,

Mishumaa saba (seven candles, one lit each day starting with the black in the center on Unity Day, the first red (which are all located to the left) and rotating to the first green on the third day (which are all located on the right) red, green, red, green. The candles are incrementally lighted, so on the 7th day (the Day of Imani, January 1) all seven candles are burning uniformly. 


Those celebrating Kwanzaa decorate their households with objects of art, colorful African cloth. Women wear a colorful garment called the Uwole and homes are laden with and fresh fruits that represent African idealism.  

Happy Kwanza to one and all.




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