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Do You Even Kwanzaa?



Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday that was created to celebrate African-American and Pan-African heritage. It starts on December 26 and ends on January 1, and is celebrated by lighting seven candles that represent the seven core principles known as Nguzo Saba. At the end of every night a candle is lit and on the last day gifts are exchanged. Over the last 30 years, the percentage of people who participate in Kwanzaa has declined. So, here are some tips on how to Kwanzaa and celebrate your roots to inspire you to get your Kwanzaa on!


  1. Decorate the main room with symbols

Typically, in the main room of the house, the center table gets a green tablecloth placed over it. The Mkeka, a straw mat, is placed in the center of the table. On top of the Mkeka, place:

  • Mazao- fruit in a bowl to represent community productivity

  • Kinara- seven-prong candle holder

  • Mishumaa Saba- seven candles that represent the core principles.

  • Muhindi- ears of corn, one for each child in the house. If there are no children, place two for the children of the community.

  • Zawadi- various gifts for the children

  • Kikombe cha Umoja- a cup to represent family and unity

  1. Decorate the main room with flags

The room should be decorated with flags called Bendera and posters that emphasize the core principles. These flags can be bought from a store or handmade. Making them is a fun activity for kids.

2. Practice the greetings

On the first day of Kwanzaa, Dec. 26, greet everyone by saying “Habari Gani,” which is a standard Swahili greeting meaning “what is the news?” When someone greets you, that is when you respond with the principle for that day.

  • Dec. 26: “Umoja” means “unity”

  • Dec. 27: “Kujichagulia” means “self-determination”

  • Dec. 28: “Ujima” means “collective work and responsibility”

  • Dec. 29: “Ujamaa” means “cooperative economics”

  • Dec. 30: “Nia” means “purpose”

  • Dec. 31: “Kuumba” means “creativity”

  • Jan. 1: “Imani” means “faith”

  • Non African-Americans who participate use the traditional greeting “Joyous Kwanzaa.”

  1. Light the Kinara everyday

Each candle represents a specific principle, therefore they are lit one at a time, in a specific order. The black candle, which sits in the center, always gets lit first. Some people light the black candle and light the rest from left to right, but the traditional order is:

  • Black candle

  • Far left red candle

  • Far right green candle

  • Second red candle

  • Second green candle

  • Last red candle

  • Last green candle

The red candles represent struggle, the green candles represent hope and the black candle signifies the African-American people and those who draw their heritage from Africa.


3. Join the festivities

There are many activities done throughout the seven days of Kwanzaa. You can participate in some or all, but the Kwanzaa ceremony includes:

  • Drumming and musical selections

  • Readings of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness

  • Reflections on the Pan-African colors or discussions of African principles of the day

  • The candle-lighting ritual of the Kinara

  • Artistic performances

  1. Get your grub on

Kwanzaa has a feast that takes place on the sixth day (New Year’s Eve) which is known as Karamu. This feast is a communal and cooperative effort that everyone puts something into. Before and during the feast there is an informative and entertaining program that should be presented.

Traditionally, before the feast, there is a program that involves a welcoming, remembering, reassessment, recommitment and rejoicing ceremony that is concluded by a farewell statement and a call for greater unity.

During the feast, a drink is shared by everyone at the table from a communal cup, called the Kikombe cha Umoja.


4. Gift giving time

Kuumba, which means creativity, is encouraged for gifts and is intended to bring about a sense of self-satisfaction. The gifts are typically exchanged between parents and their children and are given out on Jan. The last day of Kwanzaa. The gifts should be educational or artistic in nature to capture the overall meaning of Kuumba.

I'm a Communications major at William Paterson University. This is my first semester here as a freshman and I'm new to writing for Her Campus.
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