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All About Kwanzaa


The sixties was a turbulent time, especially for African Americans. As a way of preserving African American culture, Dr. Maulana Karenga created a cultural holiday from December 26 through January 1.

In 1966 Kwanzaa was born out of a need for all African Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs, to come together and celebrate family, tradition and community.

Kwanzaa’s roots are derived from a Swahili term known as “matunda ya kwanza” or first fruits. It has been the focus of a seven day event which not only encompasses the African tradition but is based on the Pan-African language which is primarily spoken in Africa today.

Similar to New Years, Kwanzaa represents the passing of one year and the welcoming of a new year to come. It is a time of reflection in which African roots are observed much as they were during ancient times when African harvest or first fruit celebrations represented five functions which included: the reaffirmation or “ingathering” of people to bond together, giving thanks to the creator, recognizing and honoring ancestors, honoring cultural values and celebrating life as a family, a community and existence as a people.

In addition, within the Kwanzaa history are Seven Principles also known as Nguzo Seba which are part of the seven-day celebration. When African Americans reinforce their values rooted in their ancient culture.

The Seven Principles are as follows

Umoja (Unity) - to strive for and 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 and make our brother's and sister's 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 vocation the building and developing of our community 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, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial 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.

On each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa, celebrants gather to light the candles and share their thoughts about that day's principle. Each gathering includes discussions and activities representing Kwanzaa's five fundamental concepts:

  • unity of family, friends, and community
  • reverence for the creator and creation, which encompasses an appreciation of, and respect for, the environment
  • commemoration of the past, which includes honoring one's ancestors and valuing one's heritage
  • commitment to the cultural ideals of the African community, which include truth, justice, and mutual respect
  • a celebration of the "Good of Life" and appreciation for the blessings of achievement, family, and community

    The most joyous and elaborate of Kwanzaa's gatherings takes place on December 31, the 6th day of the holiday period. On that night, a great feast (karamu) is held. Families and friends gather to eat, drink, sing, dance, and read stories and poems celebrating their cultural heritage. Everyone sips from the unity cup and many people exchange gifts.


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