It was during the peak of the civil rights movement that the cultural holiday of Kwanza was born. Unlike other similar holidays such as Hanukah and Christmas, Kwanzaa is not based upon religious association. This holiday was created to celebrate the life and the heritage of African culture seen in African and Pan African communities around the world.
Created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 — the name Kwanza is a Swahili term that means “first fruits of the harvest.” Founded on seven principles, this holiday is celebrated over the course of a seven day period called Kawaida.
The seven principles of Kwanzaa are:
1. Umoja (unity) 2. Kujichagalia (Self-determination) 3. Ujima (collective work and responsibility) 4. Ujamaa (cooperative economics) 5. Nia (purpose) 6. Kumbaa (creativity) 7. Imani (faith).
Many of the principles used during the holiday represent traditional beliefs and core values that many Pan-African communities and African Americans have today.
Kwanzaa is also a very symbolic holiday. During the time of celebration in reverence of the seven principles, many Kwanzaa participants will honor each day through ceremonial gestures. To start off, participants will light the candles held in a kinara. This is called Mishumaa Saba. These seven candles represent the seven principles. Each candle is colored red, green or black.
These colors symbols the different African gods. The color red represents Shango, the god of fire; the color green stands for earth, sending a message of life and hope; the color black stands for the African people. These colors can also be seen on different African flags.
After lighting the candles, the participants can begin to pour the Tambiko, a special drink poured by an elder of the community in a communal cup; cite the Libation, a statement of praise uttered during drink pouring; and the Ancestral roll call. This is a time during the ceremony where participants can go and share about an ancestor or role model whom they admire. Singing in unity is also a custom embraced during this holiday.
Kwanzaa is celebrated from Dec. 26 –Jan. 1. Take this time out to observe and mediate over the year and reflect on the different principles on which this holiday is based. This holiday season, take time out to admire loved ones, and honor and celebrate the African American and Pan African heritage by celebrating Kwanzaa.