Kwanzaa 101: Your Guide to the African-American Celebration

Learn about the history and traditions of Kwanzaa.
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All About Kwanzaa

What it Is: Kwanzaa is a seven-day holiday celebrated annually from December 26 to January 1. The holiday honors African-American heritage.

Who Celebrates It: Although this holiday was originally created for African Americans, millions of people around the world, including those of non-African descent, celebrate it today. Experts estimate that up to 2 million people celebrate the holiday in the U.S.

The History: Maulana Karenga, a professor and activist, founded Kwanzaa in 1966. Karenga created the holiday to celebrate and strengthen the bonds that African Americans have with their counterparts in Africa. The founder also connects the celebration of the holiday to the fight for social justice.

Kwanzaa's name comes from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which mean first fruits. Kwanzaa is modeled after other "first fruits" celebrations in southern Africa.

Each day of Kwanzaa celebrates a different facet of the Nguzo Saba, or the seven principles. Those principles are: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith). According to Karenga, Kwanzaa is not meant to be an alternative to Christmas.

Common Traditions: People celebrating Kwanzaa often place corn, a candleholder known as a kinara, a communal cup, and a black, red and green flag on a decorative mat, or mkeka.

The kinara holds seven candles: three red, three green, and one black. The black candle is lit on the first day of Kwanzaa and is meant to represent the holiday's celebrants.

Drumming, dance and communal meals and drinks as well as lighting the kinara are often incorporated into Kwanzaa ceremonies. During the holiday, celebrants often greet others with "Habari gani?" or "Whas the news?" Celebrants then answer with the day's principle. Typically, gifts are given only to children during this time.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

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