Part of our goal of lifelong learning is to explore various topics, cultures and traditions. We’ve previously created a few graphics about Christmas and its origins and traditions, and today we take a closer look at a lesser known holiday, Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa (spelled Kwanza in African countries) is a non-religious holiday celebration of the harvest which runs from December 26th to January 1st. Observance in the U.S. began in 1966 when Dr. Malauna Karenga first promoted the holiday because he believed the principles of the harvest are vital to building stronger and more wholesome communities.
How Many Will Celebrate Kwanzaa?
An estimated 18 million people worldwide and 2.1% of U.S. adults (approx. 5 million) say they plan to celebrate Kwanzaa. Compare that percentage to 5.9% of U.S. adults who say they will celebrate Hanukkah and 93.8% who say they will celebrate Christmas (Numbers come from a survey from the National Retail Federation).
What Are The Symbols Of Kwanzaa?
- A straw mat symbolizes the tradition of Kwanzaa – the foundation on which all else rests.
- A seven-space candle holder represents the stalk from which the African people originated.
- The ears of corn represent the children of the stalk.
- Represents the fruits of the labor by the parents and the rewards of the seeds sown by the children.
The Seven Daily Principles of Kwanzaa
The seven candles (called Mishumaa Saba) placed in the Kinara represent the principles of the harvest (called Nguzo Saba). Each day of Kwanzaa is a celebration of the daily principle.
- Umoja (oo-MO-jah)
- Unity stresses the importance of togetherness for the family and the community, which is reflected in the African saying, “I am We,” or “I am because We are.”
- Kujichagulia (koo-gee-cha-goo-LEE-yah)
- Self-Determination requires that common interests are defined and decisions that are in the best interest of our family and community are made.
- Ujima (oo-GEE-mah)
- Collective work and responsibility reminds the community of the obligation to the past, present and future, and that everyone plays a role in the community, society, and world.
- Ujamaa (oo-JAH-mah)
- Cooperative economics emphasizes collective economic strength and encourages the community to meet common needs through mutual support.
- Nia (NEE-yah)
- Purpose encourages the community to look within themselves as individuals and as a group to set personal goals that are beneficial to the community.
- Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah)
- Creativity makes use of r creative energies to build and maintain a strong and vibrant community.
- Imani (ee-MAH-nee)
- Faith focuses on honoring the best of the traditions, drawing upon the best in people, and helps people strive for a higher level of life for humankind while affirming self-worth and confidence in the ability to succeed and triumph in righteous struggle.
Kwanzaa Customs And Celebrations
Kwanzaa is a celebration of the harvest and African heritage. Customs include traditional music, dance, art and readings of prose or poetry with a focus on celebrating origins and ancestors.
- Decorations and Clothing
- Families decorate their home with colorful African cloth, sculptures, art along with some of the symbols of Kwanzaa listed above. Women and men wear traditional African clothing.
- Feast & Gifts
- The holiday culminates in feasts and gifts. Libations (a ritual pouring of a liquid as an offering to a god or spirit or in memory of those who have died) are often consumed from a traditional shared cup called the Kikombe cha Umoja.
- The Children
- It is customary to include children in Kwanzaa ceremonies and to give respect and gratitude to ancestors. Children also play traditional games like Mancala.