Kwanzaa is a week-long African-American and Pan-African celebration in the United States observed to honor the African-American culture and heritage. It is observed from 26th December to 1st January. Each day in Kwanzaa symbolizes a different principle.
'Kwanzaa' comes from a Swahili phrase 'matunda ya kwanza', which means 'first fruits of harvest'.
Kwanzaa was the first African-American holiday to be created.
Today, Kwanzaa is regarded to be - 'A celebration of Family, Community and Culture'.
In 1966, Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Black Studies at California State University, created this holiday in order to strengthen the unity all Africans or Blacks and keep the African culture alive among African-Americans. Fruit celebration, ingathering, reverence, commemoration, re-commitment and celebration are the five basic fundamentals of this holiday.
Kwanzaa is majorly centered around seven principles (Nguzu Saba), which were introduced to reinforce ancient African traditions and customs.
The seven principles of Kwanzaa (Nguzu Saba) laid by its founder Karenga are -
Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves stand up.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' 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 always 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.
Kwanzaa also has seven symbols that emphasize on one principle of the festival each day. The symbols are -
Mazao - The Crops
Symbolizing African harvest celebrations and rewards of productive and collective labor.
Mkeka - The Mat
Symbolizing African tradition, history and foundation.
Kinara - The Candle Holder
Symbolizing African roots and parent people - continental Africans.
Muhindi - The Com
Symbolizing children of Africa and the future which they embody.
Mishumaa Saba - The Seven Candles
Symbolizing the Nguzo Saba, the seven principles, the matrix and minimum set of values which African people are urged to live by in order to rescue and reconstruct their lives in their own image and according to their own needs.
Kikombe cha Umoja - The Unity Cup
Symbolizing the foundation principle and practice of unity.
Zawadi - The Gifts
Symbolizing the labor and love of parents and the commitments made and kept by the children.
There are also two supplement principles. They are -
Bendera - The Flag
The colors of the Kwanzaa flag are black, red and green. Black symbolizing Africans, red struggle and green the future and hope that comes from their struggle. They are based on the colors given by Marcus Garvey as national colors for African people throughout the world.
The first Kwanzaa celebrations were held in 1966-67.
Traditionally, houses are decorated with objects of art. The Mkeka (mat) is placed down and all the other symbols are placed on it to symbolize the seven principles. Kwanzaa celebrations always include children as a custom. Each night of Kwanzaa involves family gatherings and a child lights one candle on the Kinara (candle holder) and then discussions begin on the appropriate principle of the day. Celebrations also involve storytelling, drumming, poetry telling and musical sessions. Exchanging gifts is also a custom. The usual greeting on this day is 'Joyous Kwanzaa'.
'Karamu', the African feast, is held on December 31. Traditional African dishes and ingredients originating in Africa are enjoyed by the celebrants on this day.
In earlier times, observers of Kwanzaa did not mix the Kwanzaa with celebrations of other holidays as they thought it to be a violation of the principle of Kujichagulia (self-determination).Today, however, many African-American families celebrate Kwanzaa along with Christmas.
'Spirit of Kwanzaa', the annual cultural exhibition, is held at John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and features African dances, songs and poetry.
Spread of Kwanzaa -
Kwanzaa has also spread to Canada. Black Canadians celebrate it in a fashion similar to African Americans. Kwanzaa is also unofficially said to have spread to France, Great Britain, Jamaica and Brazil.