When Is Kwanzaa, And What Does It Celebrate?

The festivities and gift exchanges of Kwanzaa celebrate African heritage between Christmastime and New Year's Day.

5. History of Kwanzaa

The Kwanzaa celebration is observed to honor the African-American culture in and around the states of the United States of America, and has also spread to many other parts of the world where people of African ancestry live abroad. It was created in the year 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, and is a time which starts in the month of December and continues until January to celebrate the first harvest of the season. It derives its name from a Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza”, meaning the “first fruits of harvest”. The celebration is dated back to the year 1960, when the Black Nationalist movement was gaining ground in America, itself being created to connect African-American people with their African heritage and culture, and instill pride regarding the same.

4. When and Where Is Kwanzaa Observed?

The Kwanzaa celebrations are carried out between the Christmas and New Year's holidays (i.e. from December 26th to January 1st) so as to mark the first harvest by the people of Africa. It is mostly celebrated by the African-American people in the U.S.A., but nowadays even non-Africans are also seen observing this festive time. This festival is also celebrated by Black Canadian people, and the African people living in many European countries. It is observed in their families by the lightning of kinara, which are black candles, and after that the family and friends discuss the significance of the celebration. The sharing of folktales is done and much more during the feast. Then, in the consecutive remaining days of Kwanzaa, green and red candles are lighted in the home.

3. Kwanzaa Terminology

These Kwanzaa terminologies, as put forth by Dr. Karenga, are actually the seven principles of the African Heritage of this festival, which are also known as Nguzo Saba. They are:-

  • Umoja” which means unity to be observed between family and friends.
  • Kujichagulia” meaning self-determined and finds the unique voice for oneself in the world.
  • Ujima” meaning to cooperate and help other members of the community.
  • Ujamaa” which means to sustain a business from which the whole community receives profit.
  • Nia” meaning to work towards the cultural unity of the festival based on its traditions.
  • Kuumba” which defines the use of one's creativity for the improvement of the community.
  • Imani” which means to believe in fellow beings, struggles, parents, leaders, and teachers.

2. Clothing, Food, and Festivities

As it is one of the significant festivals in African culture, the people mostly wear African-inspired attire during these seven days to mark their importance. The gifts are exchanged amongst, the people and are given to the elders as well. These gifts are actually handmade ones, which are given to each other during the feasting, which is known as Karamu. The food which is made during the celebration time is a mixture of African culture which often includes Jollof rice, jerky meats, and black beans.

1. Cultural Significance

#1 Cultural Significance

The festival carries cultural significance as the family and friends come together and they learn about the principles of unity and cooperation. In so doing, all participants are learning many significant aspects about historical African culture, and community-oriented appreciation is fostered during the festival. Even a U.S. Postal stamp was released for this particular festival to mark its cultural significance in the country (pictured above).

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