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Kwanzaa facts for kids

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Kwanzaa celebration with its founder, Maulana Karenga, and others
Observed by African Americans
Type Cultural and ethnic
Significance Celebrates Black heritage, unity and culture.
Date December 26 until January 1
Celebrations Unity
Collective Work and Responsibility
Cooperative Economics
Related to Black History Month

Kwanzaa is a week long celebration held in the United States to honor universal African heritage and culture. People light a kinara (candle holder with seven candles) and give each other gifts. It takes place from December 26 to January 1 every year. It was created by Maulana Karenga and was first celebrated in 1966 - 1967. Non-African Americans also celebrate Kwanzaa. The holiday greeting is "Joyous Kwanzaa".

History and name of the holiday

Kwanzaa is a celebration that started in the black nationalist movement of the 1960s. It was created as a way to help African Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage.

The name Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning first fruits of the harvest.

During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga said that it was meant to be an alternative to Christmas, that Jesus was psychotic, and that Christianity was a white religion that black people should shun. However, as Kwanzaa became more popular, Karenga changed his position so that practicing Christians could also feel included. He stated in the 1997 Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday."

Many Christian African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa do so in addition to observing Christmas.

Principles and symbols

Kwanzaa Candles-Kinara
Seven candles in a candle holder are symbols of the seven ideas of Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba—the seven principles of blackness). Karenga said that this "is a communitarian African philosophy," . It consists of what Karenga called "the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world." These seven principles comprise Kawaida, a Swahili term for tradition and reason. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles, as follows:

  • Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together. To make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  • Nia (Purpose): To make our collective goal the building and developing of our community. This in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  • Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can. This so that we can leave our community more beautiful and better than we inherited it.
  • Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
A woman lights candles on a table with things for Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa symbols include a decorative mat on which other symbols are placed, corn and other crops, a candle holder with seven candles, called a kinara, a communal cup for pouring libations, gifts, a poster of the seven principles, and a black, red, and green flag. The symbols were designed to convey the seven principles.

During Kwanzaa, families also decorate their households with objects of art. They use colorful African cloth such as kente, especially the wearing of kaftans by women. Fresh fruits that represent African idealism are also used. It is normal to include children in Kwanzaa ceremonies and to give respect and gratitude to ancestors. Libations are shared, generally with a common chalice (a shared cup), Kikombe cha Umoja, passed around to all people present. A Kwanzaa ceremony may include drumming and musical selections, libations, a reading of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness, reflection on the Pan-African colors, a discussion of the African principle of the day or a chapter in African history, a candle-lighting ritual, artistic performance, and, finally, a feast (Karamu). The greeting for each day of Kwanzaa is Habari Gani? which is Swahili for "What's the News?"

Cultural exhibitions include the Spirit of Kwanzaa, an annual celebration held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts featuring interpretive dance, African dance, song and poetry.

Related pages

  • The Black Candle (2009) – a documentary film about Kwanzaa, narrated by Maya Angelou
  • Dashiki – A shirt or suit worn during Kwanzaa celebrations
  • Kaftan (boubou) – A dress worn by women during Kwanzaa celebrations
  • Kufi – A cap worn during Kwanzaa celebrations
  • A program to raise the faith level in African-American children through Scripture, Kwanzaa principles, and culture, Janette Elizabeth Chandler Kotey, DMin, Oral Roberts University,1999
  • The US Organization: African American cultural nationalism in the era of Black Power, 1965 to the 1970s, Scot D. Brown, PhD, Cornell University, 1999
  • Rituals of race, ceremonies of culture: Kwanzaa and the making of a Black Power holiday in the United States,1966—2000, Keith Alexander Mayes, PhD, Princeton University, 2002
  • Interview: Kwanzaa creator Ron Karenga discusses the evolution of the holiday and its meaning in 2004, conducted by Tony Cox. Tavis Smiley (NPR), 26 December 2003

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