On Dec. 26, millions throughout the world’s African community started weeklong celebrations of Kwanzaa. There were daily ceremonies with food, decorations and other cultural objects, such as the kinara, which holds seven candles. At many Kwanzaa ceremonies, there is also African drumming and dancing...It is a time of communal self-affirmation – when famous black heroes and heroines, as well as late family members – are celebrated.
Zwanzaa lasts for seven days and was founded by Maulana Karenga, a professor, activist and chairman of black studies at California State University, in 1966, to create and help build stronger communities between African-Americans and their neighborhoods.
Kwanzaa is a nonreligious holiday and is modeled after a number African harvest celebrations. It’s name is derived from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza," which means "first fruits" in Swahili. It is celebrated in many different ways, but celebrations often include storytelling, songs, dance and a large meal.
Included in the celebration is a 7-prong candle called the Kinara. During each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa, a candle is lit. Each candle represents one of the seven principles that are celebrated and that represents a special value in African-American culture.
The seven principles include: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba) and faith (imani).
Kwanzaa also incorporates seven celebratory symbols, and one is emphasized each day. Those symbols include: the crops (mazao), place mat (mkeka), ear of corn (vibunzi), the seven candles (mishumaa saba), the candle holder (kinara), the unity cup (kikombe cha umoja) and gifts (zawadi).
Seven Days of Kwanzaa Celebration
The First Day of Kwanzaa (December 26)
On the first day of Kwanzaa the black candle is lit in the Kinara. The black candle represents the first principle – Umoja: Unity. The person who lights the candle might make a statement about the first principle and its meaning. Sometimes a passage or poem is read relating to what the principle means and how it relates to their life.
Then the Umoja (Unity Cup) might be filled with fruit juice and shared among those gathered. Each takes a drink and passes to the next.
After the sharing of the Unity cup the candles are extinguished till the next day.
The Second Day of Kwanzaa (December 27)
On the second day the black candle is again lit, as well as the farthest red candle on the left. This represents the 2nd principle of Kwanzaa –Kujichagulia: Self-Determination.
Again a statement about the second principle and its meaning might be made. Or possibly a passage or poem is spoken or read which relates to what the principle means and how it relates to their life. The family shares the Unity cup and the candles are extinguished.
The Third Day of Kwanzaa (December 28)
On the third day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, and then the farthest right green candle. This represents the 3rd principle of Kwanzaa – Ujima: Collective work and responsibility.
The third principle is discussed. The family shares the Unity cup and the candles are extinguished.
The Fourth Day of Kwanzaa (December 29)
On the fourth day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, the farthest right green. And then the next red candle on the left. This represents the 4th principle of Kwanzaa – Ujamaa: Collective economics.
The fourth principle is discussed. The family shares the Unity cup and the candles are extinguished.
The Fifth Day of Kwanzaa (December 30)
On the fifth day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, the farthest right green, the next red and then the next green candle. This represents the 5th principle of Kwanzaa – Nia: Purpose.
The fifth principle is discussed. The family shares the Unity cup and the candles are extinguished.
The Sixth Day of Kwanzaa (December 31)
On the sixth day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, the farthest right green, the next red, the next green and then the final red candle. This represents the 6th principle of Kwanzaa – Kuumba: Creativity.
The sixth day, which occurs on New Years Eve, is a special day. This is the day of the Kwanzaa Karamu or Kwanzaa Feast. In the spirit of celebration many families invite their friends and family to join in the festivities.
A party atmosphere is created with additional Kwanzaa decorations. Family and friends dress up in traditional or traditional inspired clothing,play African or African-American music and cook their favorite foods and special holiday dishes.
On this special day participants remember their ancestors when the Unity cup is shared, and after everyone has taken a drink the candles are extinguished.
But before the Karamu is over, the eldest member of those present will read the Tamshi La Tutaonana. The Tamshi La Tutaonana was written by Dr. Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa, as a farewell statement to the feast and the year.
Everyone stands as the elder reads:
Strive for discipline, dedication, and achievement in all you do. Dare struggle and sacrifice and gain the strength that comes from this. Build where you are and dare leave a legacy that will last as long as the sun shines and the water flows. Practice daily Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba, and Imani. And may the wisdom of the ancestors always walk with us. May the year’s end meet us laughing, and stronger. May our children honor us by following our example in love and struggle. And at the end of next year, may we sit together again, in larger numbers, with greater achievement and closer to liberation and a higher level of life.
Then the elder leads the guests in the Harambee (ha-RAM-bee) salute. Each person raises their right fist about as high as their shoulder, then pulls down forcefully until the elbow is next to next to their torso, saying “Harambee!” This is done seven times in unison.
This concludes the Karamu celebration.
The Seventh Day of Kwanzaa (January 1)
On the seventh day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, the farthest right green, the next red candle, the next green, the final red and then the final green candle. This represents the 7th principle of Kwanzaa – Imani: Faith.
The seventh principle is discussed. The family shares the Unity cup and all seven candles are extinguished. Kwanzaa is over.
Since Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday, over time families and communities have established their own traditions that can be enjoyed each year, and passed on to the next generation.