Holidays Around the World: Kwanzaa

The history of the Kwanzaa celebration goes back to the year 1966, when a professor named Dr. Karenga founded the holiday and created seven principles for the African-American people to live by.  These Seven Principles became the guiding force behind this cultural celebration that the people live by and follow. 

Kwanzaa celebrations last for seven nights and includes storytelling, playing music and games, and having large gatherings with family and friends for meals.

On each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa, a candle is lit by a child on a candleholder, known as a Kinara. Each person gathers around the candle to listen to a principle (guiding rule) that the people should live by every night of Kwanzaa: 

  1.  Unity: This means that the people are united and work together for the good of their community, their families and African-Americans, and our nation.
  2. Self-Determination: This means that the people are self-determined to rise above any obstacles, and speak for ourselves. 
  3. Collective Work and Responsibility: This means that everyone works together for the good of all the people in the community, and to help others by collectively working together to help solve problems or concerns. 
  4. Cooperative Economics: To maintain our stores, shops and businesses and earn money and make profits from them. Economics is the study of money. 
  5. Purpose: To develop our community with purpose and intent, and restore greatness in the community and to the people living in it. 
  6. Creativity: To leave our community more beautiful than it was by doing as much as we can to take care of our community.  
  7.  Faith: To have faith and believe in the power of our people, our community and its leaders, and to rise above any struggles. 

African-Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa believe in the power of these Seven Principles in order to live better, more fulfilling lives that are guided by these truths. Also, the items that are used during a traditional Kwanzaa celebration, which lasts for one week, all have special meanings, and are listed below: 

* The Crops: remember the story of the animals that harvested and saved all of their crops, including corn and other vegetables, to prepare for the fall and winter months?  They were ready for when the colder weather came, and had more than enough to eat.  This is the same concept with the crops, as fruits, nuts, and vegetables are all harvested and saved.  This is a sign of the hard work the African American people do in order to provide for their families, and the animals too. 

* The Place Mat: the place mat is made out of straw or cloth, and holds the kinara candleholder that is used for the ceremony.  Ancient tribes also used place mats made out of straw, cloth, and other linens, so this custom is still used today.             

* Stalks of Corn: the stalks of corn symbolize and represent the children within the

households, and each family member places a stalk of corn on the place mat to show how many children they have. All of the people in the village are responsible not just for their own children, but for properly guiding all of the children in the village, for they believe that “it takes a whole village to raise a child.” 

* The Seven Candles: candles have been used in many ceremonies and different types of celebrations for thousands of years. The seven candles represent the 7 principles that people who celebrate Kwanzaa follow: Unity, Self-Determination,

Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity,

and Faith. On each night of Kwanzaa, one of the candles is lit, which represents a

principle that the people follow. The candles are used to provide light, and are either black, green, or red. The black candle represents the African-American people who live on the Earth.  The green candle represents the earth, and the red candle represents the god of fire, who sends down his lightning and thunder whenever he is offended, and comes from African-American legends and stories. 

* Kinara, The Candleholder: the candleholder is used to hold all of the candles that are used in a traditional Kwanzaa ceremony, and one candle is lit for each night of

Kwanzaa. The candleholder can be created using all natural materials, such as wood or other materials. It is placed in the center of the place mat, and represents the center of where we came from and branched out of- our ancestors.

* The Unity Cups:  The unity cups that are used in a traditional Kwanzaa celebration symbolizes everyone coming together in unity to celebrate. This includes families, children, and friends, but they do not drink the last sip from the cup, as it is saved in remembrance of those ancestors that came before them who have passed on.  The drink can be juice or wine, or even plain water, and the unity cup is pointed to the north, south, east, and west to honor ancestors who have passed away.  Each person at the gathering has their own cup to drink from, whether they are celebrating outdoors, or at a special ceremony at church. 

* Gifts:  Gifts are one of the most cherished parts of celebrating Kwanzaa, and there is a great deal of attention in making handmade gifts that each person will cherish. Whether it is a scarf, a pair of handmade gloves, kinara candleholders, or other keepsakes, there is often a purpose and a reason to gift-giving, and it is used to show intention, which is very different from the hustle and bustle of shopping that is done during the Christmas holiday season.  Gifts can include handmade

cards, dolls, and other keepsakes.