Celebrating Heritage and Family with Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is almost here. Soon, many African American homes will be decorated with bright gift bags and Black angels for the holidays. Whether it snows or not, December brings families together. Kwanzaa, like many cultural traditions, is a celebration of life. There are so many ways to celebrate. Kwanzaa is meant to remind us of our history. There is a rich--and often forgotten story--of Africa and the African Diaspora.

For seven days each Winter (December 26 - January 1) we take time to celebrate Kwanzaa. It is important to recognize the value of Black culture and give gifts that represent our heritage.

Where did Kwanzaa come from?

This holiday is celebrated in many African American homes. The concept of Kwanzaa is based on the traditional end-of-year festivals that celebrate African harvests. Dr. Karenga developed the holiday in 1966 based on a collection of cultural traditions from the Kikuyu, Zulu, Ashanti, and other African groups. Kwanzaa is an abbreviated form of the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanzaa” which means “the fruits of our harvest”.

Habari Gani?

Each day of Kwanzaa represents a different principle of the Nguzo Saba (Swahili for Seven Principles). Typically, the entire family will come together over dinner to light a candle on the Kinara and share stories related to the principle of that day. An elder in the family will often ask “Habari Gani?” and in response, the rest of the family will shout the principle of the day. Habari Gani is another Swahili phrase. It means “what’s the news?

What is the Nguzo Saba?

The Nguzo Saba is a list of seven principles that guide every Kwanzaa celebration. Each principle in the Nguzo Saba builds upon the next to create a set of values that strengthen the family.

Umoja (Unity): To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia (Self-determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Kuumba (Creativity): To do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

On the last day of Kwanzaa, a big feast called Karamu represents the acceptance of all the blessings to come in the new year. It signifies the faith in our ancestors to guide us as we move forward. Kwanzaa is about more than gifts--it represents our hope for the future.

Kwanzaa is a meaningful holiday. At a time when so many African American communities are disenfranchised and excluded from the political conversation, we should work together to create change. Let’s get to know more about this traditional African American holiday and share the joy of Kwanzaa with the world.


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