December 3, 2000
1966, during the Black Freedom movement and after the Watts riots, the chair of
the black studies department at California State University at Long Beach, Dr.
Maulana Keranga, came up with an idea. That idea was Kwanzaa, a celebration of
African roots and black unity in America. The idea has taken hold and, now,
over 20 million people celebrate Kwanzaa in the U.S., Canada, England, the
Caribbean, and in Africa.
A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture
By Royce Carlson
The word "Kwanzaa" is derived from the Swahili phrase "matunda
ya kwanza" which means "first fruits." It is based on African
harvest festivals and is celebrated annually during the seven days after
Christmas, from December 26 to January 1. Kwanzaa is primarily a cultural
holiday, not a religious one. Its purpose is threefold: 1) to reaffirm and
restore rootedness in African culture; 2) to serve as a regular communal
celebration to reinforce the bonds between people; and 3) to introduce the
The seven principles are:
Umoja - Unity
Kujichagulia - self-determination
Ujima - collective work and responsibility
Ujamaa - cooperative economics
Nia - purpose
Kuumba - creativity
Imani - faith
The colors associated with Kwanzaa are black – for the face of the people,
red – for the blood they have shed, and green – for the hope and the color
of the motherland. There is a ritual associated with the seven-day holiday
involving the lighting of seven candles each representing one of the seven
principles. The candles are lit alternately each day from left to right. Three
red candles should be placed on the left and four green candles are placed on
the right in the Kinara, a ritual candle holder.
This time of year is full of celebrations – Christmas, Hanukkah, and now
there is Kwanzaa. All are celebrations of reflection, unity and hope. The
popularity of Kwanzaa continues to grow. There are dozens of sites about
Kwanzaa on the Web. A good introduction to Kwanzaa can be found at the Kwanzaa
Welcome Page. You can also visit Dr. Karenga’s
Official Kwanzaa Web Site.
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