Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, a week-long annual celebration for the Black family and community!
Kwanzaa was first introduced by African-American activist and college professor Dr Maulana Karenga in 1966 as an alternative to Christmas, which had been commercialised.
Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration which promotes Seven Principles to live by. The word Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase mutanda ya kwanzaa which means “first fruits” of the harvest.
It has similarities to Thanksgiving in the USA, and the Yam Festival in Ghana and Nigeria.
How is Kwanzaa Celebrated?
The first thing you’ll need to do is set up your table with the 7 symbols of Kwanzaa:
1) Mat (mkeka) which symbolizes laying the foundation for self-actualization.
2) Crops (mzao) which represents our historical roots in agriculture, and also reaping the rewards for collective labour.
3) Candle holder (kinara) which is the centre of the Kwanzaa setting, and reminds us of our ancestral roots in one or more of the 55 African countries.
4) Corn/maize (muhindi) which signifies children and the hope we have in the younger generation.
5) Gifts (zawadi) which represent commitment of the parents to the children.
6) Unity cup (Kkimbe cha Umoja) which is used to pour libations to the ancestors.
7) Seven candles (mishumaa saba); 3 red, 1 black and 3 green, are lit each day in a particular order, to remind us of each of the Principles. The Kwanzaa candles are lit from left to right each night, with the centre (black) candle being lit first.
During the week-long celebration (December 26th to January 1st) families and communities organize activities around the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, focusing on one of the Principles each day. They discuss each Principle, and how they can apply them to their daily lives.
Participants greet each other with “Habari gani?” which is Kiswahili for “How are you/how’s the news with you?” You would reply with the Principle for that day (see below)
Kwanzaa usually culminates in a communal feast called Karamu, with food from various African countries.
Community events can include dance, poetry, performances, narratives and reflecting on a commitment to the Seven Principles all year round.
The 7 Principles of Kwanzaa
The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa are called the Nguzo Saba. Each day, we focus on one of the Principles, and light the corresponding candle.
Day 1: UMOJA = UNITY
The black candle, known as the unity candle is lit, and focus is placed on the Principle of Umoja, or unity in the family, community and nation.
Day 2: KUJICHAGULIA = SELF-DETERMINATION
The first red candle is lit, which represents the blood of our ancestors and the struggle of Africans and their descendants. It means to define, name and speak for ourselves.
Day 3: UJIMAA = COLLECTIVE WORK & RESPONSIBILITY
The second red candle is lit, which is to build and maintain our community together, and make our brother and sister’s problem our problem, and solve them together.
Day 4: UJAMAA = COOPERATIVE ECONOMICS
The third red candle is lit. The whole idea is to open and maintain our own community buildings, shops, and other businesses, and to work together to profit from them collectively.
Day 5: NIA = PURPOSE
The first green candle, which represents Mother Earth, and the foretelling of the abundance of the future to come. It means to make collective vocation to build and develop community and to restore traditional greatness.
Day 6: KUUMBA = CREATIVITY
The second green candle is lit, which means to always do as much as you can to leave the community more beneficial and more beautiful than it was when you found it.
Kwanzaa usually culminates in a communal feast on the sixth day called Karamu. Communal events can include dance, poetry, performances, narratives and reflecting on a commitment to the Seven Principles all year round.
Gifts are exchanged, usually books by Black authors.
Day 7: IMANI = FAITH
The third green candle is lit, symbolising the belief in, and commitment to all that is of value to us as a family, community, and culture.
Kwanzaa is a time to spend with family and the community, and to comprehend the importance of the Seven Principles, not just this week, but all year round. Happy Kwanzaa!
In rememberance of my sister Lady Leo, founding member of Kwanzaa Network UK.
A poem I wrote in tribute to the work my sister did tirelessly for her community:
Lastly, a short video on how to set up your Kwanzaa table:
#Howard professor Dr. Greg Carr (@AfricanaCarr) breaks down #Kwanzaa for those who celebrate or looking to learn about it, the seven principles, the purpose and more. #BNCLive pic.twitter.com/gmp5ueCgOA— Black News Channel (@BNCNews) December 24, 2021
In your service,
Join me for a 10 Day Self Love Challenge leading up to Self Love Day!