Kwanzaa: A Meaningful Celebration of African Values and Core Principles

There can be wonderful moments of nostalgia that happen for most people right around Thanksgiving, and all the way to the New Year’s.

Yet I cannot deny that at the same time, as an adult, this time of year can cause a bit of anxiety. Thoughts of not having enough money to buy gifts can be very stressful, and the true meaning of the holiday season can get lost in the commercial shuffle.  What has personally eased the tension for me is the fact that my knowledge of Kwanzaa has been with me since my teenage years.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Kwanzaa was started as an African-American holiday by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 to help African-Americans reconnect to their own cultural roots during celebration this time of year. Kwanzaa takes focus from commercialization, and puts it on principles, not pennies. [/perfectpullquote]

Oh, What’s Kwanzaa?  Kwanzaa is a holiday that begins December 26th and ends January 1st and means “First Fruits” in Kiswahili.  It celebrates the growth of harvest and family values.  Now the assumption is that Kwanzaa is something African because much of it as a celebration uses the African language as its base.

Yet Kwanzaa was started as an African-American holiday by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 to help African-Americans reconnect to their own cultural roots during celebration this time of year. Kwanzaa takes focus from commercialization, and puts it on principles, not pennies. It allows for families or groups to come together in this nostalgic time and take inventory of seven specific principles called the Nguzo Sab. These principles should take precedent in our lives during the holiday season, versus having to worry about how much money we have to spend. The gifts are usually handmade or educational in nature and have sentimental value that can be carried on throughout life in general.

[bctt tweet=”Kwanzaa is a holiday that begins December 26th and ends January 1st and means ‘First Fruits’ in Kiswahili. ” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]

 I’ve always had a strong affinity for Kwanzaa, because it creates a oneness amongst the groups that come together to practice it. There is an actual ceremony that’s practiced with objects that have meaning to match the holiday’s theme.

To have a Kwanzaa ceremony you need a mat (Mkeka) on which other symbols are placed, representing the idea that nothing can be built without having a foundation upon which to rest. You need a  Kinara (candle holder), Mishumaa Saba (seven candles), mazao (crops), Muhindi (corn), a Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) and Zawadi (gifts). There should be enough ears of corn to represent each child in the family.  The seven candles represent the Seven Principles (or Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa. Knowing the principles is key for full expression of the holiday’s meaning.  Those principles are:

Photo courtesy: The author, Asadah Kirkland

[bctt tweet=”The seven candles represent the Seven Principles (or Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa.” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]


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  1. Umoja: Unity

To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

  1. Kujichagulia: Self-Determination

To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

  1. Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility

To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and solve them together.

  1. Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics

To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

  1. Nia: Purpose

To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

  1. Kuumba: Creativity

To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

  1. Imani: Faith

To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Principles of Kwanzaa



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During the week of Kwanzaa, a new candle is lit on the Kinara each day. The center black candle is lit first, and the lighting then proceeds from left to right, the new candle being lit corresponding to the principle of that day. In this way each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to the contemplation of one of the Seven Principles.  Each of the candles also has a meaning. The black one symbolizes African people throughout the Diaspora.  The red represents the bloodshed during slavery, and the green represents the land of Africa from which African-Americans descended.

Photo Courtesy: The author, Asadah Kirkland

Kwanzaa has grown far beyond just America in these past 50 years.  It is now considered to be a Pan-African holiday and is practiced by many communities globally. Kwanzaa celebrations can feature drummers, African art, marketplaces, cultural foods, African attire and more. I think the most evident gifts are the smiling faces of families who no longer have to worry about being bogged down with holiday season commercialization. Instead, the entire family indulges in planning a ceremony that empowers everyone, leaving stress and anxiety way out of the equation.

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Asadah Kirkland is the Founder of Soulful Chicago Book Fair where she finds ways to center the Kwanzaa holiday around Black literary arts in Chicago, USA.  In so doing, Ms. Kirkland promotes the holiday’s principles thus; “the most relevant principles of the Nguzo Saba for the event, KUJICHAGULIA or self-determination, is manifested in the ability to tell OUR stories, from OUR point of view, for OUR benefit. UJAMAA or cooperative economics enhances the literary marketplace for African Diasporic writers who can sell their stories regardless of mainstream outlets that won’t. KUUMBA or creativity is represented in how the event shines a light on the fact that authors actually took their thoughts, mustered up courage, and created books to share them.”


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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Nikki says:

    Harambee! Thank you for sharing and introducing people to Kwanzaa. The picture you shared isn’t incorrect though! I hope you can update it or people catch the error


    1. Suchitra Shenoy Packer says:

      Thank you for your comment. Would you please tell us what is incorrect about the photo? Thank you.


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