Kwanzaa is an African-American cultural festival beginning on December 26th and ending on January 1st.
The festival was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga. Dr. Karenga's goal was to establish a holiday that would facilitate African-American goals of building a strong family, learning about African-American history, and developing unity.
While developing the new holiday, Dr. Karenga studied many African festivals and found many of them to be harvest related. Because of this, he named the celebration Kwanzaa from the Kiswahili word meaning "first fruits."
A Seven Day Celebration
Kwanzaa is a seven day celebration. It begins on December 26th, the day after Christmas, and lasts until January 1st, the first day of the New Year.
The celebration is focused around seven very important Principles, called nguzo saba. Though these principles are important all year long, they are thought about a great deal during this holiday.
Each night, people gather together to light the candles of the kinara and to share their thoughts on the special principle of that day.
The gatherings take place seven times until all seven candles have been lit and all seven principles have been talked about.
People might get together in their homes, or they may gather in a church or the home of another family they know.
On the sixth day, which falls on December 31st, there is a great feast called the karamu. This is a joyous celebration of music, happiness, folktales, song, and dance.
During the feast, everyone present will sip from the kikombe cha umoja, the cup of unity. The karamu is also the time when the zawadi, the gifts, are exchanged.
The Seven Principles
The Seven Principles, also known as nguzo saba are the main ideas that are most important to the celebration of Kwanzaa. Each principle is represented by one of the seven days of the holiday.
Day 1. Umoja means unity.
Day 2. Kujichagulia means self-determination.
Day 3. Ujima means working together.
Day 4. Ujamaa means supporting one another.
Day 5. Nia means purpose.
Day 6. Kuumba means creativity.
Day 7. Imani means faith in ourselves and the world.
A typical karamu feast will go something like this:
Elders and distinguished guests are welcomed.
Some form of cultural expression, such as a song, dance, or story-telling is performed.
Someone will say a few words of importance, perhaps an honored guest.
This is when an offering is poured into the unity cup and all drink from it.
Drums are sometimes played as the names of ancestors and Black heroes are called.
This is also when the feast begins and more songs and dances are performed.
This is when the karamu is finished and friends and loved ones bid each other farewell.
The Symbols of Kwanzaa
The mkeka is a straw mat. All of the other symbols of Kwanzaa are put on top of it.
The seven candles of Kwanzaa are called mishumaa. They represent the Seven Principles.
The kinara is the candle holder. It represents the stalk from which all life springs.
Karamu is the name for the feast of Kwanzaa. It is a time when the community gets together to give thanks for their accomplishments during the past year. There is not only food, but music, dance, and lots of laughter and conversation. The feast is held on the evening of December 31st.
The kikombe cha umoja is a cup of unity. Everyone at the feast will sip from it.
The muhindi are ears of corn. There is supposed to be one ear of corn for each child. Children are one of the most important things being celebrated at Kwanzaa.
The zawadi are the gifts of Kwanzaa. Gifts are supposed to be creative and often are made by hand. When the gifts are bought from a store, they are often educational (like a book) or inspirational (like artwork).
Information Courtesy of KU Medical Center.