I’m laying out my holiday plans and this year, I’m adding into Kwanzaa to the celebrations. This will not be my first time celebrating Kwanzaa; it’s a family tradition from way before I was even born literally. However, I realize that most people don’t know the basics so here’s my primer for Kwanzaa 101. I need to add just like Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter or lots of other holidays there are different understanding and family traditions of how people celebrate. These are all based upon my experiences and how my family celebrates.
What is Kwanzaa?
Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 through January 1. It’s a distinctly African American cultural celebration created in 1966 as a reflection for African American’s reaffirmation building family, community and culture within their unique role as people of African descent in American. It’s not tied to any religion or specific African country’s traditions. It is modeled after the first-fruits celebrations in ancient Africa but you will not find an African country or cultural group that celebrate Kwanzaa.
One of the most important aspects for my family is the recognition of The Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles). Each of the seven days dedicated to one of The Nguzo Saba and the reinforce the seven basic values of culture that reinforce the holiday as well as guide how African American’s interact with another other year round. The principles are:
Umoja (Unity) – I will unite with my family, my community and my people.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) – I will define myself and my people. I will not let others tell me who I am or what I will represent.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) – I am one part of my family and my community. I am concerned about all and will work with others in my family and community for the betterment of all.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) – I will build my community with financial investment through supporting African American businesses, organizations and intuitions.
Nia (Purpose) – I have a purpose in life. Only I can fulfill my purpose in my family and my community.
Kummba (Creativity) – I will improve the world by using my gifts and talents.
Imani (Faith) – I will believe in my family, my community and my people.
How do you celebrate?
Key aspects that are included in celebrating Kwanzaa are the colors of red, black and green in the Bendera (Flag) and Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles). The use of red, black and green comes from Marcus Garvey’s call for their use as national colors for African people throughout the world. The black is for the color of our skin, the red is for the struggle of our people, and the green is for the promise of the future that comes from the struggle.
Other parts of the celebration include:
Mazao (Crops) – These are symbolic of the African harvest and can be items common to your local community. Our table usually includes fruits, sweet potatoes and nuts.
Mkeka (Mat) – This is symbolic of the tradition and history our family is built on. It’s usually a straw mat however my family has used fabric for several years and it’s became part of our traditions.
Kinara (Candle Holder) – This is symbolic of our family roots.
Muhindi (Corn) – This is symbolic of our children.
Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles) – These are symbolic of the Nguzo Saba, or Seven Principles.
Kikombe cha Umoja (Unity Cup) – This is symbolic of the foundation principle and practice of unity.
Zawadi (Gifts) – These are symbolic of the love parents have for their children and commitments made/kept by their children.
Bendera (Flag) – The Kwanzaa flag is red, black and green.
The celebration of Kwanzaa is open to your family’s style. A traditional celebration occurs each evening begins with an opening greeting of “Habari Gani?” meaning “What’s the Word?” or “What’s the News?” and the audience will respond by saying the word of the day.
The celebration might include expressions of creativity which might include dance, drumming, music, poetry, art displays, even a Karate exhibition (if that’s someone’s gift). There is usually a discussion led by a community elder on the meaning of the day’s word, the lighting of Mishumaa Saba (candles for each day), sharing of libations from a communal cup and closing with a communal meal.
I hope you find this summary helpful. These are really the basics of Kwanzaa 101. I also created a Pinterest board full of inspiration for my Kwanzaa celebration that you can view here. If you want to learn more about how my family celebrates and why we celebrate, you can click here.