When I first came to the United States, people always asked if I celebrated Kwanzaa. I had never heard of the holiday, but it wasn’t long before I was curious enough to learn about this beautiful cultural celebration.
Primarily celebrated in the United States, Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration (December 26 through January 1) that honors African American heritage and culture. It’s celebrated by African Americans of all faiths, many of whom also celebrate other seasonal and faith-based holidays alongside Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa was started in the mid-1960s by Maulana Karenga, a professor of African American Studies. Initially, Kwanzaa was a way to unite African American communities after a series of riots (the Watts Rebellion or Watts Riots) that had a huge impact in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Watts, Los Angeles. The word “Kwanzaa” itself was adapted from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which translates to “first fruits” (source).
There are seven principles to Kwanzaa:
- Umoja, or unity
- Kujichagulia, or self-determination
- Ujima, or collective work and responsibility
- Ujamaa, or cooperative economics
- Nia, or purpose
- Kuumba, or creativity
- Imani, or faith
Each day of Kwanzaa, families light one of the black, red, or green candles in the Kinara to represent one of the principles.“The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green; black for the people, red for their struggle, and green for the future and hope that comes from the struggle. The black candle is lit first on the first day of the celebration, and the remaining candles are lit afterwards from left to right on the following days.” (source).
“While the first principle of Umoja brings us closer and harnesses our strength, the last principle, Imani, inspires us and sustains our togetherness.” Maya Angelou said in The Black Candle documentary.
Kwanzaa is a celebration of African American roots, culture, tradition and heritage. We love to see it.