December 27, 2022
I grew up not knowing anything about Kwanzaa. It is not surprising considering that the holiday had only been around for eight years when I was born and was still spreading to the general public. In fact, the first time I even heard the word Kwanzaa was not in regard to a holiday, but a girl. She was a classmate and neighbor of mine whom I met when my family moved from Madison, Wisconsin, to Detroit, Michigan.
Finding out what her name represented was my first introduction to this very American holiday. Its origins date back to a man named Dr. Maulana Karenga (formerly Ron Karenga). He wanted to find a way to honor and celebrate African American heritage and culture, as well as the struggles faced living in the United States. And so, in 1966, Kwanzaa was born.
Now, nearly six decades later, Kwanzaa has become an important part of the year for many. However, there are some who still don’t know much about the holiday, so here are some interesting facts about Kwanzaa and the celebrations surrounding it.
Kwanzaa begins the day after Christmas and continues until January 1. The name is derived from Swahili words that refer to the “first fruits” of the harvest. Fruits and vegetables are very symbolic in Kwanzaa, as are ears of corn. Families will often place an ear of corn on a woven mat to represent every child in the family.
Each day of Kwanzaa represents one of the seven principles of the holiday and is celebrated with the lighting of a candle (black for unity, red for the past, and green for the future.) All of these are placed in a candle holder referred to as the Kinara.
The seven principles are as follows:
- Day One: Umoja (Unity)
- Day Two: Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
- Day Three: Ujima (Work and Responsibility)
- Day Four: Ujamma (Cooperation)
- Day Five: Nia (Purpose)
- Day Six: Kuumba (Creativity)
- Day Seven: Imani (Faith)
Another important symbol is the Unity Cup, which is drunk from each day. And on the sixth day is the feast of Karamu, when family and friends gather to feast and celebrate. Gifts are also given, usually during the last day.
The holiday of Kwanzaa was designed for the African American community to celebrate their heritage, as well as the resiliency of their communities. However, all of the principles involved are actually universal and can be applied to anyone’s life. This is what makes this holiday special.
If you are looking for more information, here are some wonderful books about Kwanzaa available at MCPL:
- Celebrate Kwanzaa by Carolyn Otto
- Seven Candles for Kwanzaa by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
- Kwanzaa: Count and Celebrate by Fredrick McKissack and Lisa Beringer McKissack
- Kwanzaa by Molly Aloian
- Kwanzaa, From Holiday to Everyday by Maitefa Angaza
- Fruits of the Harvest: Recipes to Celebrate Kwanzaa and Other Holidays by Eric V. Copage
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