by Milan Riley
Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African American culture that is celebrated in many areas affected by the African Diaspora. Lasting one week, Kwanzaa occurs from Monday, December 26th, to Sunday, January 1st of the next year. The event revolves around Pan-Africanism, unity, creativity, faith, and giving gifts. The term ‘Kwanzaa’ came from a Swahili phrase, matunda ya kwanza, meaning ‘first fruits.’
History of Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa was created by Maulana Karenga, an American activist and author. In 1966, Karenga started the holiday as a way for African-American families to reconnect with their historical origins and embrace their community. Karenga was inspired by civil rights rebellions, such as the Watts Riots, in addition to another observance, Umkhosi Wokweshwama, an annual harvest festival for the Zulu people.
Karamu is a feast commonly on the 6th day of Kwanzaa, December 31st. Families add one ear of corn for each child in the family, along with seasonal fruits to their main dish, a one-pot stew. Participants drink from the unity cup, also called kikombe cha umoja, in tribute to their ancestors.
Giving gifts to children in exchange for their good deeds over the year is also customary. Handmade presents and symbols of their ancestry, such as jewelry from Africa, are common. Books or other objects that teach the next generation about their roots are recommended.
A traditional gift.
Another tradition during Kwanzaa is the lighting of the Kinara candleabra, which consists of black, green, and red candles, which matches the colors of the Pan-African flag. The seven candles are lit one by one as the days of Kwanzaa go by. Each candle has a particular meaning that celebrated on that day, and they are lit in this order:
- Red candle meaning Umoja (unity).
- Red candle meaning Kujichagulia (self-determination).
- Red candle meaning Ujima (collective work and responsibility).
- Black candle meaning Ujamaa (cooperative economics).
- Green candle meaning Nia (purpose).
- Green candle meaning Kuumba (creativity).
- Green candle meaning Imani (faith).