Celebrate Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a holiday invented in 1966 by Maulana Karenga (founder of the Black Power group "Us Organization") through which African Americans can connect with their heritage and culture. It's celebrated from December 26 through January 1, with each of the seven days focusing on one of seven core values, or Nguzo Saba. A candle is lit on each day, and on the last day, gifts are exchanged. Since Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday rather than a religious one, it can be celebrated alongside Christmas or Hanukkah, or on its own, although Karenga wished for it to be celebrated instead of Christmas and Hanukkah, as he felt these holidays were simply symbols of the dominant cultures in America.


  1. Decorate your home or the main room with the symbols of Kwanzaa. Put a green tablecloth over a centrally located table, and on top of that, place the Mkeka which is a straw or Weave a Primitive Mat that symbolizes the historical foundation of African ancestry. Place the following on the Mkeka:

    • Mazao — fruit or crops placed in a bowl, representing the community's productivity.
    • Kinara — a seven-pronged candle-holder.
    • Mishumaa Saba — the seven candles which represent the seven core principles of Kwanzaa. Three candles on the left are red, representing struggle; three on the right are green, representing hope; and one in the center is black, signifying the African American people or those who draw their heritage from Africa.
    • Muhindi — ears of corn. Lay out one ear of corn for each child; if there are no children, place two ears to represent the children of the community.
    • Zawadi — various gifts for the children.
    • Kikombe cha Umoja — a cup to represent family and community unity.
  2. Decorate around the room with Kwanzaa flags, called Bendera, and posters emphasizing the seven principles. You can purchase or make these, and it's especially fun to make them with the kids.
  3. Practice the Kwanzaa greetings. Starting on December 26, greet everyone by saying "Habari Gani" which is a standard Swahili greeting meaning "what is the news?" If someone greets you, respond with the principle (Nguzo Saba) for that day:
    • December 26: "Umoja" — Unity
    • December 27: "Kujichagulia" — Self-determination
    • December 28: "Ujima" — Collective work and responsibility
    • December 29: "Ujamaa" — Cooperative economics
    • December 30: "Nia" — Purpose
    • December 31: "Kuumba" — Creativity
    • January 1: "Imani" — Faith.
    • Non African-Americans are also welcome to participate in greetings. The traditional greeting for them is "Joyous Kwanzaa."
  4. Light the Kinara daily. Since each candle represents a specific principle, they are lit one day at a time, in a certain order. The black candle is always lit first. Some people light the remaining candles from left to right (red to green) while other people alternate as follows:

    • Black candle
    • Far left red candle
    • Far right green candle
    • Second red candle
    • Second green candle
    • Last red candle
    • Last green candle
  5. Celebrate Kwanzaa in a variety of different ways. Pick and choose some or all of the following activities throughout the seven days of Kwanzaa, saving the feast for the sixth day. Kwanzaa ceremony may include:
    • Drumming and musical selections.
    • Readings of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness.
    • Reflections on the Pan-African colors, discussions of African principles of the day, or recitations of chapters in African history.
    • The candle-lighting ritual of the Kinara.
    • Artistic performances.
  6. Have the Kwanzaa Karamu (feast) on the sixth day (New Year's Eve). The Kwanzaa feast is a very special event that brings everyone closer to their African roots. It is traditionally held on December 31st and is a communal and cooperative effort. Decorate Safely for the Holiday Season the place where the feast will be held in a red, green, and black scheme. A large Kwanzaa setting should dominate the room where the feast will be held. A large Mkeka should be placed in the center of the floor where the food is placed creatively and made accessible to all to serve themselves. Before and during the feast, an informative and entertaining program should be presented.

    • Traditionally, the program should involve welcoming, remembering, reassessment, recommitment and rejoicing concluded by a farewell statement and a call for greater unity.
    • During the feast, drinks are to be shared from a communal cup, the Kikombe cha Umoja, passed around to all celebrants.
  7. Give out the gifts of Kuumba. Kuumba, meaning creativity, is highly encouraged and brings a sense of self-satisfaction. The gifts are usually exchanged between the parents and children and are given out traditionally on January 1st, the last day of Kwanzaa. Since the giving of gifts has very much to do with Kuumba, the gifts should be of an educational or artistic nature.


  • Kwanzaa means "first fruits of the harvest" in the African language Kiswahili. Many of the phrases used in Kwanzaa are in Swahili, which was the language chosen to represent African heritage.

Things You'll Need

  • Mkeka (woven mat)
  • Flag materials
  • Corn
  • Green tablecloth
  • Black, red, and green candles
  • Gifts of different principles

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Sources and Citations

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