FRIDAY, DECEMBER 26: Learn the seven principles and gather in the name of unity—for the seven-day commemoration of Kwanzaa. Created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1965 as the first completely African-American holiday, Kwanzaa celebrations honor African heritage and culture. Though originally associated with the black nationalist movement, Kwanzaa today is often focused on unity for all and on connecting Africans of the Diaspora with their native roots.
Specifically, the “seven principles” call to mind what Karenga refers to as a “communitarian African philosophy.” In 2014, the official Kwanzaa theme is Practicing the Culture of Kwanzaa: Living The Seven Principles.
Did you know? “Kwanzaa” is from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, or “first fruits of the harvest.”
Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to a principle, resulting in a total of seven Kwanzaa principles. The principles, though they may vary slightly in spellings, consist of: Umoja (unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective work and responsibility); Ujamaa (cooperative economics); Nia (purpose); Kumbaa (creativity); and Imani (faith).
Kwanzaa urges participants to maintain unity in family and race, to define themselves, to build community and profit together, and to always do what is possible at the moment. (Wikipedia has details.) Symbols and decorations aid in the unity of Kwanzaa observances, such as a decorative mat (mkeka), corn, a seven-candle holder (kinara) and a communal or unity cup. Often, an African feast—known as Karamu—is held on the sixth day of Kwanzaa, and gifts (zawadi) are exchanged on the seventh day.
Did you know? The proper greeting for Kwanzaa is “Joyous Kwanzaa.”
Household celebrations for Kwanzaa often include children, as do public Kwanzaa ceremonies. (Teachers and parents: You’ll find kid-oriented learning materials and resources at Scholastic.com.) Community gatherings may include music, drumming, dancing, libations and the reading of the principles. Artistic performances, storytelling and ritual candle-lighting are also common.
In its 48 years of observance, Kwanzaa has spread in popularity throughout the United States and into Canada. Synthia Saint James’s Kwanzaa postage stamp became the first of its kind in 2007 and two years later, Maya Angelou narrated the Kwanzaa documentary, The Black Candle. (For DVD ordering information, visit the documentary’s website.) Celebrities including Oprah and Angelina Jolie are known to celebrate Kwanzaa each year (learn more fun facts—and take a quiz—at PBS.org.) Hungry for a taste of Kwanzaa? Find recipes for traditional dishes, from sweet potatoes and collard greens to black-eyed peas, at Food Network and Food.com.