Kwanzaa is a holiday created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga to show respect and appreciation for the history and of people of African ancestry and to also celebrate family and community. It is celebrated for a week from December 26 to January 1st. The name comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. First fruits celebrations date back to ancient Egypt and Nubia and pertain to the harvest. The holiday is considered a cultural instead of religious holiday and any one can celebrate regardless of their faith.
The history of Kwanzaa dates back to the Civil Rights and Black Freedom movements of the 1960’s. The principles are in the Swahili language since it is the most widely used African language.
According to the Huffington Post, “the colors black, red, and green are part of Kwanzaa celebrations due to their special significance. Black represents the people, red is for the blood uniting all those with African ancestry, as well as the blood shed during slavery and the civil rights movement, and green is for the lush land of Africa. These colors also reflect the Pan-African movement itself.”
Kwanzaa has seven principles, one celebrated on each day of the holiday and known collectively as Nguzo Saba. They are African values which are named in both Swahili with English translations.
- Umoja: Unity
- Kujichagulia: Self-determination
- Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility
- Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics
- Nia: Purpose
- Kuumba: Creativity
- Imani: Faith
Some of the traditions celebrated during Kwanzaa include songs such as the Black National Anthem and lighting the kinara. A black candle from the center is used to light the candles from left to right. There is a candle to represent each one of the seven principles.Together, the candles are called the mishuuma saba. The kikombe cha umoja, or Unity Cup is another important tradition.