History and family is an incredibly important part of the holiday season. It’s a time for people to come together and follow traditions, remembering their roots throughout the years. Kwanzaa is a holiday created to help African Americans remember their roots. In the midst of the civil rights movement, when African Americans were fighting for their rights, Kwanzaa was a holiday created to help unite them together as a community. Celebrated for seven days, Kwanzaa focuses on seven principles designed to make the community even stronger.
Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966 after it’s creation by Maulana Karenga. Steaming from Swahili, the name Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” or “first fruits of the harvest. The idea of the celebration came from the black nationalist movement in the 1960s and the purpose behind Kwanzaa was to allow African Americans to reconnect with their roots. The concept of Pan-Africanism was the reason that Karenga chose to use Swahili as the basis for the holiday’s name, a movement to strengthen the bonds of all people of African descent. While originally Kwanzaa was supposed to be an alternative to Christmas, but in 1997, Karenga redesigned the religion to be more welcoming to African-American Christians and now many people celebrate it in addition to Christmas.
The seven days of Kwanzaa are dedicated to the seven principles of Kwanzaa, one day celebrating each principle. These principles are also known as Nguzo Saba or Nguzu Saba, the seven principles of African heritage. The first principle celebrated is Umoja, or unity, striving for connection between community, family, race, and nationality. Second is Kujichagulia or self-determination, which represents defining and naming the community and self as well as speaking and creating as individuals and a community. Ujima, or collective work and responsibility is the third principle, coming together as a community to help build and solve problems. On the fourth day, Ujamaa, or cooperative economics, is celebrated, focusing on creating and profiting from community owned stores and businesses. Purpose, or Nia, is the focus of the fifth day, working together to make the building and restoring of community the primary objective. Art and creativity are the center point of the sixth day, also known as Kuumba. The final day is Imani, or faith, believing in the community and the people within it.
When celebrating Kwanzaa, the family decorates the house with colorful African art, including kente, or cloths, fresh fruit, and kaftans, which is a style of clothing worn by women. The common greeting is “Joyous Kwanzaa” and children are encouraged to take part in the celebration. While originally the mixing of holidays was frowned upon, now it is not uncommon to see Christmas and New Year’s decorations right beside traditional Kwanzaa decorations. These decorations include the Mkeka, or mat on which everything is placed, Kinara, or candle holder, which holds the seven candles, or Mishumma Saba, mazao, or crops, such as muhindi, corn, and a Kikombe cha Umoja or unity cup. African song, dance, and music is also traditional and every year the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts has a traditional Kwanzaa celebration.