Good Food, Family, and the Interesting Aspects of Kwanzaa


Photo courtesy of CNN

As the 2019 holiday season rolls into town, many of us are gearing up for another year of gift giving, carol singing, and all around merriment. Here in America, there are three major holidays recognized among the majority of the general public: Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Most people know what Christmas is all about, including those who don’t celebrate, but what exactly is Kwanzaa?


Kwanzaa stems from the civil rights and Black Freedom movements of the 1960s, and is meant to honor and commemorate the African heritage of black Americans who were robbed of their heritage during the slave trade. As stated by Dr. Maulana Karenga, the man who established Kwanzaa in 1966, “Kwanzaa was created to reaffirm and restore our rootedness in African culture.”


According to, the name “Kwanzaa” comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits.” As with most holidays, every family has their own traditions and nuances to the celebration, but these celebrations typically include singing and dancing, African drums, storytelling, and a traditional meal. The celebration lasts seven days, each day representing a different principle. These principles, also called Nguzo Saba, are values drawn from African culture that focus on building community among African-Americans. In addition to the seven principles, there are seven symbols, meant to represent values and concepts that reflect African culture. On each night of the celebration, another candle in the Kinara is lit. The Kinara is a type of traditional candelabra. The celebration lasts from December 26 through January 1. 


The seven principles are unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani). The Kinara used in the celebration of Kwanzaa holds seven candles: one black, three green, and three red. These colors are meant to represent the people, the struggle, and the future. The seven symbols of Kwanzaa are the crops (mazao), the place mat (mkeka), an ear of corn (vibunzi), the seven candles (mishumaa saba), the candleholder (kinara), the unity cup (kikombe cha umoja), and the gifts (zawadi). 


Kwanzaa is meant to provide African Americans an opportunity to honor their ethnic heritage, even if they also celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah. Prominent during the civil rights and Black Freedom movements of the 1960s, the popularity of Kwanzaa has tapered off in recent years. Whether or not you celebrate this holiday, it’s rich with history and interesting cultural information. Even though the amount of people celebrating the holiday itself has diminished, it’s always important to know where the roots lie. Happy holidays, and to all a good night!