What Is Kwanzaa And How Is It Celebrated?
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What Is Kwanzaa And How Is It Celebrated?

Jasmyne Jeffery December 22, 2022

You may have seen that some people have mentioned Kwanzaa lately as we lead up to Christmas. If you’ve not heard of it before, then we can tell you what Kwanzaa is and why it is celebrated.

It’s possibly a celebration this time of year that you haven’t heard of but it is incredibly important to some. Beginning at a similar time to Christmas, Kwanzaa honours African heritage in African-American culture. If you’ve never heard of it or you’d like to know more, then we have all you need to know about the celebration.

What Is Kwanzaa?

As InterExchange explains, Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration beginning on December 26 that culminates in gift-giving and having a big feat. The celebration is recognised in the United States and is a fairly recent addition to holiday celebrations.

The holiday was created in 1966 by Dr Maulana Karenga who was a professor and chairman of African Studies at California State University. Karenga came up with Kwanzaa as a response to the Watts riots, and civil unrest caused by rumours surrounding police abuse.

Kwanzaa is the cultivation of several different celebrations, including those of the Zulu and Ashanti. The name of the celebrations comes from ‘matunda ya kwanza,’ which means first fruits or harvest. For each of the seven days of Kwanzaa, one of its principles is discussed amid the celebrations so that it doesn’t lose it’s meaning.

They are:

  • Umoja – Unity
  • Kujichagulia – Self-Determination
  • Ujima – Collective Work and Responsibility
  • Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics
  • Nia – Purpose
  • Kuumba – Creativity
  • Imani – Faith
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It celebrates unity within the African-American community in the United States, reinforced each time the celebration comes around. Those who celebrate recognise the core symbols of Kwanzaa.

They are:

  • Mazao – Crops representing the fruits of collective thinking and organisation.
  • Mkeka – Place mat representing the historical and traditional foundation for people to stand on.
  • Muhindi – Ear of Corn representing fertility and the hopes children bring.
  • Mishumaa Saba – Ceremonial candles symbolically re-creating the sun’s power.
  • Kinara – The Candleholder representing ancestry, where we all come from.
  • Kikombe Cha Umoja – The Unity Cup
  • Zawadi – Gifts

How Is It Celebrated?

Traditionally, Kwanzaa is celebrated with singing, dancing, reading and storytelling throughout the week. There is often African drum beating and a lot of feasting (because we all know that’s the best way to celebrate anything).

Additionally, before the discussion of that day’s principle has taken place, a candle on the Mishuuma Saba is lit. This starts with Umoja on the first day before the black candle in the centre of the Kinara is lit. On the final day of Kwanzaa, families enjoy a feast called Karamu and gifts are given. It is preferred if the gifts are handmade so that they encourage determination, purpose and creativity.

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Jasmyne Jeffery is a full-time Entertainment and News Writer on university-themed website Freshered and HITC, and joined the company having previously worked in a freelance role. She attended the University of South Wales where she was also a student blogger and graduated in 2022 with a first-class honours degree in English and Creative Writing. Now, she puts her creativity to use reviewing university bars, Love Island episodes and the latest apps any 18-25-year-old is using.