Kwanzaa honors African heritage in African-American culture. The celebration of Kwanzaa is observed from December 26th to January 1st, and ends with gifts and a big feast.

Kwanzaa means “first” in Swahili.  Originally, it celebrated the first fruits of the harvest.  In Africa the celebration varies, but people always come together in gratitude.  In America, Maulana Ron Karenga and the U.S. Organization adopted the basic principles of Kwanzaa.  It has become a time to celebrate, to share, and to recommit to a better life for ourselves, our families, our communities.  Ancestors are honored. And even though it is a time of celebration, fasting may be part of it in order to cleanse the spirit.

There are several symbols of Kwaanza; one is the seven candles (mishumaa saba) which stand for the Seven Principles.  A candle is lit and a principle is remembered and discussed each day.  The core principles are as follows:

  • Unity (Umoja):  To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  • SelfDetermination (Kujichagulia): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
  • Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and solve them together.
  • Cooperative Economics. (jamaa): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  • Purpose (Nia): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  • Creativity (Kuumba): 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.
  • Faith (Imani): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

The Candle colors:  black candle symbolizes all African peoples and is located in the center.  Three red candles represent the blood of the ancestors and three green candles represent earth, life, and promise of the future.  One source noted: “green is for the fertile land of Africa; black is for the color of the people; and red is the for the blood that is shed in the struggle for freedom”.

During these days after Christmas let us celebrate with our sisters and brothers of African heritage.  Let us recognize and be grateful for their gifts, let us renounce racism, and let us all work together for justice.