Celebrating Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African American history and African heritage across the diaspora. Families, communities, and loved ones gather for seven days to participate in rituals highlighting Nguzo Saba (the 7 Principles of Kwanzaa). These Principals are Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). While these principles are emphasized throughout the celebration of Kwanzaa, they should be practiced year-round.

Other Kwanzaa activities include feasts (karamu), music, dance, poetry, speeches, and a closing day focused on reflection. Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, so people of all religious backgrounds can participate in celebrations. It is celebrated between Christmas and the New Year, making the end of the year extra special.

Recipes to Make This Kwanzaa


Fried Okra

Crab Grits

Crawfish Risotto

Hibiscus Cookies

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maulana Ron Karenga, a scholar and activist, to celebrate the history of Africa and the African diaspora. The holiday is modeled after the first fruit festivals celebrated across the African continent. These festivals show gratitude for the year’s first fruit or harvests. Maluna designed Kwanzaa to reaffirm African heritage and culture across the African Diaspora, reinforce the seven principles, celebrate a non-heroic communal holiday nationally, and represent cultural self-determination. Kwanzaa was born from the hardships and struggles of African-American liberation in the 1960’s. These struggles and challenges are still alive today.

The word Kwanzaa comes from the  Swahili phrase,” matunda ya kwanza,” which means first fruits of the harvest. Swahili is spoken in East Africa and is one of the most heavily spoken languages in the world. First fruit harvests in Africa are celebrated for 3 – 9 days. Kwanzaa celebrations last seven days. The number seven has significant meaning in numerology. Seven represents perfection, wholeness, and wisdom. During Kwanzaa, you can greet one another by saying, “Habari Gani” (what’s the news). The other person can respond with the name of the day’s principal.

Each day, a candle is lit on the kinara (a candle holder holding seven candles) to honor the day’s principle. Participants are encouraged to be creative and share an activity to observe that principle and discuss what that principle means to the individual.

The Seven Days of Kwanzaa

December 26th: Umoja (unity)

December 27th: Kujchagulia (Self-determination)

December 28th: Ujima (Collective work)

December 29th: Ujamaa (Cooperative economic)

December 30th: Nia (Purpose/intention)

December 31st: Kuumba (Creativity)

January 1st: Imani (Faith)

Kwanzaa is a time to celebrate unity and the African-American culture. It’s an intentional moment to pass on culture, tradition, and values to children. Children are central to the celebration of Kwanzaa and are represented through muhindi (the symbol of corn).

The holiday can be celebrated publicly in places such as churches, mosques, temples, schools, libraries, and parks or privately in community member’s homes. It is essential to remember that there is no wrong way to celebrate Kwanzaa. Share your favorite foods and enjoy the opportunity to unite and rejoice.