Kwanzaa, a Swahili word meaning "first," is a secular African celebration observed during the seven day period, starting from December 26 ending on January 1, and was created in 1966 by Maulana Ron Karenga. Kwanzaa is based solely on the African tradition of celebrating harvest. Kwanzaa brings families and communities together to celebrate the "fruits" or accomplishments coming out of a year of labor. It is also a time when families can evaluate their achievements and contributions to other people, and in turn set goals for the up-coming year.
Each day of Kwanzaa is devoted to a different principle that helps promote a deeper social, spiritual and moral commitment. These principals are called NGUUZO SABA, and they provide the philosophical setting of Kwanzaa.
- Umoja (oo-moe-jah) = Unity; to strive for a principled and harmonious togetherness in family, community, nation, and world.
- Kuji-Chagulia (Koo-jee-cha-goo-lee-ah) = Self determination; to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves, instead of being defined, named, and created for and spoken for by others.
- Ujima (oo-jee-mah) = Collective work and responsibility; to build and maintain our communities together and make our sister's and brother's our problems and to solve them together.
- Ujama (oo-jah-mah) = Cooperative economics; to build and maintain our own businesses, control the economics of own community and share in all its work and wealth.
- Nia (nee-ah) = Purpose; to make our collective vocation; the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
- Kuumba (koo-oom-bah) = Creativity; to do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful than we inherited it.
- Imani (ee-mah-nee) = Faith; to believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness any victory of our struggle.
As any other cultural celebration, there are symbols associated with Kwanzaa.
- Mkeka = a straw mat. This represents the foundation upon which all other traditions rest.
- Kinara = seven piece candle holder. This represents the original stalk from which we all have sprung.
- Mishumaa = seven candles: three red, three green, and one black represent each of the seven principles.
- Vibunzi or Muhindi = ears of corn, one for each child in the family, representing the product, or the offspring of the stalk/parents.
- Mazao = crops; represents the results or "fruits" of harvest; usually a bowl of fruits, nuts etc.
- Zawandi = are gifts. On the last day of Kwanzaa, meaningful gifts, often homemade are exchanged. The gifts, particularly for children, should encourage growth and self-development during the coming year.
Red, black, and green are the colors of Kwanzaa. Red is for struggle, self determination waged by the ancestors, and for the fire in our hearts which guides us to work hard for the things in which we believe. Black stands for the people of African descent, for without people there can be neither struggle nor hope. Green is for the earth that gives us life, and for our youths and the new ideas they bring.
Fasting is an important aspect of Kwanzaa. It starts at dawn and ends at dark and is often observed by adults for seven days. After sundown only fruits, nuts, vegetables and juices are eaten. The fast may be broken on the sixth or seventh day, with a big celebration called Karamu. The act of fasting represents a cleansing of the body as we cleanse our minds and spirits for the coming year.
Karamu takes place on December 31 or on January 1. The family gathers with friends and neighbors for the evening, this evening is filled with music, dance, food and drink. Children finally get to open their gifts and play games among themselves; stories and folktales are told; songs are sung; and people prepare to plant the seeds for the New Year.
Children have an important role in Kwanzaa. They are encouraged to make decorations with the colors of Kwanzaa, design ankhs (symbols of life) and suns (symbol of creation and growth) for display around the home. They also learn songs and games to share with and teach adults.