Kwanzaa is a yearly, week-long celebration of African American culture. Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday – it was first celebrated in 1966 – and takes place from December 26 – January 1. The name comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili.

The holiday was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, who was looking for a way to bring African Americans together after some race riots in Los Angeles. While Kwanzaa was a new holiday that he created, he borrowed aspects of African harvest celebrations, such as those from the Ashanti and Zulu.

Kwanzaa has seven principles, one for each day of celebration. These are principles that help build African American community and culture and are called the Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili). Families light a candle on the Kinara (candleholder) on each of the nights, and a Karamu (African feast) is held on December 31st. There is also a symbol for each day of Kwanzaa.

As far as the actual celebrations, every family celebrates Kwanzaa a bit differently. Songs and dances are common, including with African drums. Storytelling and a big meal are also common ways to celebrate. Children are an important part of Kwanzaa as protectors of traditions and guardians of culture.

These are the 7 principles of Kwanzaa:

Unity: Umoja (oo–MO–jah)
Self-determination: Kujichagulia (koo–gee–cha–goo–LEE–yah)
Collective Work and Responsibility: Ujima (oo–GEE–mah)
Cooperative Economics: Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah)
Purpose: Nia (nee–YAH)
Creativity: Kuumba (koo–OOM–bah)
Faith: Imani (ee–MAH–nee)

  • Picture Book Recommendation: Together for Kwanzaa by Juwanda G. Ford (Author), Shelly Hehenberger (Author)
  • Video about Kwanzaa (another one here)
  • Info on celebrating appropriately
  • Kwanzaa food: In early celebrations, African harvest foods were common. Nowadays, however, comfort foods familiar to the African diaspora in the United States became are more common. You can make anything you like for Kwanzaa, but foods that are rooted in sub-Saharan Africa and connected to soul food are common on Kwanzaa tables.
    • Kwanzaa is about community, family, and friendship, so make sure that whatever food you have, it is shared!
  • Easy Kwanzaa Recipe: Macaroni & Cheese