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When Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa, he wanted African Americans and other black people in western countries to have a holiday that celebrates their heritage and emancipates them from the mental slavery they live with borrowing from different cultures.
Kwanzaa was created in 1966 as a seven-day holiday that celebrates black culture. The holiday runs through December 26- January 1. Though it started in California, USA, and is not a holiday of African origin, it has quickly spread to other states and countries. Today, the holiday is even celebrated in South Africa and other African countries.
Kwanzaa is derived from a Kiswahili word, kwanza, and completed with an extra ‘a’ to spell it as a seven-letter word. Kwanza means ‘first’ in Kiswahili and its use in the creation of this holiday is explained as celebrating the first harvest (matunda ya kwanza).
Karenga was mostly inspired by the annual Zulu tradition of celebrating fruits of the first harvest. The holiday, hence, offers black people the chance to celebrate and give thanks for a successful year, and share the fruits of their harvest (hard work) with their families, community, and ancestors.
What Do The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa Mean?
Kwanzaa is celebrated in observance to the seven principles (nguzo saba) of the African heritage. These represent each day of the holiday. They are strong values to teach a black child and to empower them to be better in all aspects of life.
Umoja means ‘unity’ and is the first principle of Kwanzaa celebrated on the first day. We aim to maintain unity in our family, community, nation, and culture. Unity means we live in harmony and solidarity as a community, united by our oneness which identifies us as Africans. When we practice unity, we will define, develop, and defend our interests in the world.
Kujichagulia means our self-determination in defining, defending, and developing ourselves in the face of the world. In learning how to practice this principle, we will define our own identity as Africans and how we shape the world in our interests. We will practice our culture to know who we are and how we must positively contribute to a better world for our children.
Our collective work and responsibility to build a stable community and take care of each other. This principle teaches us to accept our responsibility in creating a reality that has our best interests, to accept our past failures and setbacks to come up with better solutions in future.
Our cooperative economics to help us to build and maintain our wealth. Ujamaa teaches us the benefits of working together as a people to build communal wealth. When we share work and wealth, we eradicate exploitation, inequality, and oppression.
It is our purpose and commitment to build, develop, and defend our community, culture, and history, and to regain our historical greatness as a people. In learning to practice this principle, we first acknowledge our vital role in humanity, human civilization, and development. We also appreciate our generational responsibility to find our mission that guarantees maximum freedom and growth and fulfil it.
Kuumba is to create, practice and celebrate creativity. It teaches us to use our creativity always to do our best to develop our culture, to reform our community, and leave it better than we found it. A lot about this principle is required by Nia, as a commitment to use our creativity to build better, to reform and restore our historical and traditional greatness.
Meaning Faith, this is a principle that inspires us to believe in or have faith in ourselves, our people, leaders, teachers, as well as the victory and righteousness of our struggles. Just as we cannot achieve results without the first principle of unity, we as well cannot achieve results without having faith in each other. Imani is the practice of enduring belief in our journey, and our commitment to better our family, community, and culture.
The principles of Kwanzaa are vital for the upholding, development, and sustenance of the collective black community. If we are to restore our confidence, self-love, and greatness after years of suppression and oppression, we have to teach and learn the values which will enable us to succeed.
These principles are crucial for children. When they discover their culture through Kwanzaa, they understand their role in developing it and sustaining it. The seven principles of Kwanzaa apply to all aspects of life which is why as black people of African origin, we have to teach them to ourselves and our children if we are to attain freedom and success.
For the reasons stated above, Kwanzaa principles are often used to form lessons for Rites of Passage training.
What Are The Seven Symbols Of Kwanzaa And What Do They Represent?
As well as the seven principles of Kwanzaa there are these seven symbols, and each has profound meaning. The seven symbols of Kwanzaa not only act as decorations during the celebration but represent cultural themes.
‘Mkeka’ means ‘mat’ in Kiswahili. During Kwanzaa, the mkeka is the mat on which everything is placed; it symbolizes the foundation on which the African culture was and continues to be built upon. We can take this symbolisation to reinforce to our children how vital the foundation is in everything that they do.
Mazao represents the fruits of our harvest. Using vegetables and fruits symbolizes the rewards of our hard work and productive and fertile nature.
Mahindi is the corn, this is symbolic of our children, collectively, and the future they embody.
The candle holder is symbolic of our African roots.
The seven candles represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa. They also are symbolic of the seven principles and values that guide people of African heritage.
The mishumaa saba also have an order and must be lit according to it.
Kikombe cha Umoja
The unity cup is used to pour libation and is symbolic of our practice of unity within ourselves and our ancestors.
You drink from the kikombe cha umoja after lighting the mishumaa saba.
The gifts are symbolic of the love we have for each other and our responsibility to empower each other.
Is Kwanzaa a Religious Holiday?
Though many people refer to Kwanzaa as “the black Christmas” or reference it to the Jewish festival, Hanukka, Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday and is celebrated by those of African heritage whether they practice a religion or not. It is not a belief system or faith therefore many people celebrate both Kwanzaa and Christmas. Likewise, there are many non-religious Africans who grew up celebrating Christmas but now celebrate Kwanzaa instead, in a similar fashion.
How do you actually celebrate Kwanzaa?
Each day of Kwanzaa is celebrated differently according to the principle of the day. The celebration is a group activity and as such families should get together, talk, feast, play games, sing songs and exchange gifts. Everybody celebrates it differently and some people have their annual tradition planned out, including giving gifts on the last day.
How can I teach children about Kwanzaa?
There are many children’s books about Kwanzaa, the symbolism and its principles. They mostly feature bold text and bright images, the symbolism and explain the cultural history and reason the holiday was created. Let’s Celebrate Kwanzaa has great examples and ideas for how the whole family can celebrate each day and what to take from it. It also reinforces the notion that the seven principles of Kwanzaa are great moral qualities which can be exercised throughout life and not just during the holiday. It explains how the community will benefit from carrying these principles, in a fun way and has activities the family can all get involved in together.
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Other Common Questions About Kwanzaa
Where can I buy a Kinara?
As Kwanzaa nears each year it becomes harder to get hold of a Kinara if this is your first celebration. These can be found on places like Etsy where you will have a variety of handmade options which may also come with other symbolic items such as a mkeka and kikombe cha umoja.
A Ghanaian artist by the name of Cobishowkase makes some amazing handmade kinaras which come with a handmade unity cup. He also ships free to the UK! The good thing about these items is you only need to buy them once and put them down for each year. The mkeka is also something you could make yourself or buy African cloth, like kente cloth, to use for this purpose.
Where can I buy Kwanzaa decorations?
Other than the seven symbolic items of Kwanzaa, you do not need much other decoration. However, you always welcome to buy any decoractions which represent the pan-Afrikan colour scheme; red, black and green. Many family’s have a large pan-Afrikan flag of unity.
What gifts do you give for Kwanzaa?
During Kuumba (31st December), you could make gifts to give during Imani (January 1st). You could make beads or bake cakes. But generally, gifts given to children are educational or culturally relative gifts. Books are very much encouraged, as well as African dolls or toys.
Where can I find Kwanzaa cards?
Creativity is championed during Kwanzaa, especially following the principle of Kuumba, so you would be encouraged to make cards rather than buy them. This is a more senimental gesture in any case as Kwanzaa cards purchased, though they might have cool designs, are likely mass produced.
What are some Kwanzaa activities?
As Kwanzaa is a time to be creative and celebrate the whole family’s creativity, there are an endless amount of activities you can do during Kwanzaa. In fact, creating doesn’t need to be limited to Kuumba. All throughout you could be sewing, drawing, painting, composing songs, writing poems or lyrics etc. During Kwanzaa, we also play a lot of family games. Why not try out our free Kwanzaa Bingo game? All you need is a printer and up to 5 family members.