Joyous Kwanzaa 2020

December 24, 2020

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maluana Karenga, an African American professor of African studies, as a uniting holiday for Black Americans to connect with their communities and collective African heritage. Originally, Kwanzaa was intended to be an alternative to conformity to the dominant culture. However, African American Christians had no interest in replacing their religious Christmas celebrations on December 25th. The cultural holiday of Kwanzaa begins the day after, on December 26th, lasting for 7 days, and culminates with a feast, December 31st followed by the last candle lighting on New Year’s Day.

The name Kwanzaa comes from Swahili for ‘first fruit’, or ‘matgunda ya kwanza’. The additional ‘a’ was added as a 7th letter to correspond with Kwanzaa’s seven guiding principles, or ‘Nguzo Saba’.

One principle is emphasized for each day of Kwanzaa, gathered from traditions around the African continent:

  • Umoja (oo-MO-jah): Unity
  • Kujichagulia (koo-gee-cha-goo-LEE-yah): Self-determination
  • Ujima (oo-GEE-mah): Collective Work and Responsibility
  • Ujamaa (oo-JAH-mah): Cooperative Economics
  • Nia (nee-YAH): Purpose
  • Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah): Creativity
  • Imani (ee-MAH-nee): Faith

The Kinara is the candelabra that holds Kwanzaa’s ‘Mishumaa Saba,’ or seven candles. Each candle corresponds with one of the seven principles:

  • The black candle in the center represents the people, and the first principle, Umoja.
  • Three red candles are placed to the left representing African American ancestral blood, and the principles of Kujichagulia, Ujima, and Ujamaa.
  • Three green candles are placed to the right representing rich African land, and the principles of Nia, Kuumba, and Imani.

Imani, meaning faith, might seem like a contradiction for a holiday that is not religious, but this 7th principle is intended to mean faith in the African American people, and their parents, teachers, and leaders. Each night when a new candle is lit, families discuss the corresponding principle of that candle, and each night more light fills the room with more figurative and literal vision.

Kwanzaa is mainly celebrated in the United States, but it’s also celebrated in Canada and the Caribbean where many other descendants of enslaved African people live. However, Kwanzaa is also inclusive, and people of other cultures and nationalities celebrate the holiday all over the world.

Find out more about the celebration of Kwanzaa!

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