to the Festivities of Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa (KWAN-za) is a seven-day
African-American cultural festival that is observed from December 26 to
January 1. It is the only nationally celebrated, indigenous, non-heroic
African-American holiday in the United States. During this time,
families explore, share and celebrate the African-American community,
their culture and their history. It's a time for black Americans to
recognize their African roots, and honor the achievements of their
people throughout history.
People across the globe have observed
Kwanzaa since 1966, when Dr. Maulana Karenga founded the cultural event.
Dr. Karenga, then a professor at California State University at Long
Beach, wanted to create a holiday about bringing black Americans
together and strengthening the bonds between black people.
When visualizing a holiday for the
African-American community, Dr. Karenga was inspired by Kiswahili, the
African language commonly known as Swahili. As the most regularly spoken
language in Africa, Swahili represented a cultural and historical bond
between African-Americans. Dr. Karenga named the holiday Kwanzaa after
the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning "first fruits of the
harvest." The extra "a" was added to the name in order to
give the word greater impact.
Dr. Karenga says
Kwanzaa is organized around five fundamental activities common to other
African first-fruit celebrations:
the ingathering of
family, friends, and community;
reverence for the
creator and creation (including thanksgiving and recommitment to
respect the environment and heal the world);
commemoration of the
past (honoring ancestors, learning lessons and emulating
achievements of African history);
recommitment to the
highest cultural ideals of the African community (for example,
truth, justice, respect for people and nature, care for the
vulnerable, and respect for elders); and
celebration of the
"Good of Life" (for example, life, struggle, achievement,
family, community, and culture).
Historians have discovered evidence
indicating that African first fruit harvests were celebrated as early as
3000 BC, when the ancient Egyptian empire flourished. Traditions
survived over time, and harvest festivals still occur all over the
African continent. The African first fruit festivals served as a model
for Kwanzaa because Dr. Karenga felt the harvest celebrations embodied
several important values he wanted to promote/highlight to the
African-American community through Kwanzaa. These harvest principles
included: bringing people together for a common purpose; allowing people
to give thanks to the Creator for a good life; giving people the
opportunity to commemorate the past; permitting people to examine their
past and recommit themselves to strengthening their community; and
celebrating the Creator, history, culture and the opportunities in the
The harvest principles formed the basis
of the seven principles, called Nguzo Saba, which govern Kwanzaa. The
principles foster unity and purpose within the family and community.
Each day, African-Americans focus on a different principle, or value.
Daily activities and events are often organized to represent the special
significance that each day represents. On each evening of Kwanzaa,
families light a candle in a special candleholder, called a Kinara. Some
families discuss the day’s principle, and share how they found a way
to incorporate that value into their daily activities.
Gift giving is an important part of
Kwanzaa, however the significance is weighted with equal emphasis on
education and entertainment. Unlike other holidays that have become very
materialistic, Kwanzaa has not been affected by commercialism. Gift
giving symbolizes an exchange of affection between family and friends,
so buying or receiving the largest, most expensive gift is not a part of
Kwanzaa. Many families give hand-made gifts or present heirlooms and
heritage symbols instead of buying gifts. If gifts are purchased, they
are intended to teach the receiver about Kwanzaa, or symbolize some
aspect of the holiday.