Kwanzaa holiday celebration with african festival candles

1291638433

Kwanzaa holiday celebration with african festival candles

Photo by: photovs

photovs

Kwanzaa: The African Celebration of Unity and Culture

By: Lucy Sherriff

Kwanzaa may be a festival celebrated by millions of African Americans and pan-Africans, but it has only been around for a few decades. Introduced to the United States in 1966 as a ritual to welcome the first harvest to the home, the festival, which takes place from December 26 to January 1, is a celebration of life, unity, family, and culture.

December 23, 2021

Featuring feasts, music and dance, and a dedication and recommitment to various principles, the festival was created in the midst of the Black Freedom Movement, at a time when it was felt that cultural grounding was needed.

Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University in Long Beach, is responsible for bringing the festival to life. After the Watts riots in L.A., Dr. Karenga searched for ways to strengthen the African-American community. He combined the practices and traditions of several different harvest celebrations on the African continent, and although it is celebrated around the Christmas period, it perhaps has more similarities to Thanksgiving or the Yam Festival in Ghana and Nigeria.

530056459

Kinara candles lit for celebration.

Photo by: Sue Barr

Sue Barr

Kinara candles lit for celebration.

There are five common sets of values that are central to the week-long activities: ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment, and celebration. There are seven principles of Kwanzaa – a word which comes from the phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning first fruits in Kiswahili, a language spoken in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. The first fruit celebrations are recorded as far back as ancient Egypt and appear in ancient and modern times in classical African civilizations.

These seven principles are known as Umoja, meaning unity; kujichagulia, self-determination; ujima, collective work, and responsibility; ujamaa, cooperative economics, nia, purpose; kuumba, creativity; and Imani, faith. There are seven candles used during the festival, and like, the Jewish Hanukkah, these candles are used to represent the principles.

In addition, there are a number of symbols used in the festival. Crops, called mzao, represent the historical roots of African Americans in agriculture, as well as the reward for collective labor, while muhindi – corn or maize – represents children and the hope that is associated with the young generation. A mat, laid at the door and known as mkeka, lays the foundation for self-actualization; the candle holder, kinara, reminds participants of their ancestral origins in Africa; and the unity cup, called Kkimbe cha Umoja, is used to pour libations in dedication to ancestors. Gifts, known as Zawadi, are given in order to signify parents’ commitments to their children, and finally, the seven candles, called mishumaa saba, are the colors of African liberation flags, red, black, and green.

bldhs050136kwz

Man playing the djembe.

Photo by: Hill Street Studios

Hill Street Studios

Man playing the djembe.

On December 31, participants celebrate with a plentiful meal, often featuring cuisine from various African countries.

The number of Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa has fluctuated dramatically over the years, and with as many as six million getting involved in the 1980s, Kwanzaa became a mainstream holiday. Now, however, numbers have waned, but it still remains an important cultural touchstone for many African American communities.

Next Up

Meet the Ancient Egyptian Gods Who Empower DC Comic's Black Adam

Get to know the six ancient Egyptian gods behind the latest DC Comics film Black Adam, starring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, in theaters starting October 21.

What's Inside the Secret Chambers in the Pyramids of Giza

A powerful new cosmic ray scan of the Great Pyramid of Giza could finally reveal what’s inside two voids in the structure that have baffled scientists for years.

A Majestic City Carved into Rock, Thousands of Years Ago

Carved into soft stone cliffs, the ancient sandstone city of Petra was built in the 3rd century BC by the Nabataeans. These people were a nomadic Arab tribe–Bedouins–who roamed the Arabian Desert in search of pasture and water for their herds.

A Canadian Teen Once Discovered an Ancient Temple – Using Google Maps

Most teenagers while away hours playing video games, scrolling TikTok, or texting friends. Not William Gadoury, a 14-year-old from Saint-Jean-de-Matha, Quebec. Back in 2016, Gadoury was holed up in his bedroom, plotting ancient Mayan constellations against modern satellite images and coordinates.

The Romantic, Heartbreaking Love Story Behind the Taj Mahal

Ivory white columns rise from the earth, framing the central masterpiece: an intricately carved marble domed structure stood on a square plinth, resplendent with arched doorways, and topped by a bronze moon that reaches for the sky.

A Spanish Sunken Galleon Has a $17B Bounty Onboard - and Now You Can See It

Way back in 1708, when the War of Spanish Succession was waging across Europe and Latin America to decide who should be the next King of Spain, three Spanish galleons set sail from Panama. They were loaded to the brim with gold, silver, emeralds, and other jewels that had been extracted from the mines of Bolivia – and were vital in financing Spain’s costly war against its enemies.

Mt. Shasta, California’s Mysterious Volcano, is an Enigma Waiting to be Explored

At the northernmost tip of California lies the southern end of the dramatic Cascade mountain range. And the crowning glory of the range, which ripples down through British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, before it comes to a stunning crescendo at Mount Shasta.

Three New Species of Snakes Discovered in Graveyards and Churches in Ecuador

A team of scientists led by Alejandro Arteaga, grantee of The Explorers Club Discovery Expeditions and researcher at Khamai Foundation, discovered three new cryptozoic (living underground) snakes dwelling under graveyards and churches in remote towns in the Andes region of Ecuador.

Women May Have Been Powerful Rulers of the Ancient World

A discovery in Spain has experts wondering whether women were once powerful rulers in ancient Europe.

4 Wonders of the Philippines

The Philippines is an island country in Southeast Asia, consisting of over 7,000 islands and islets. From rolling chocolate hills to caves and beaches for exploration, the Philippines has many places to explore and learn about!