International Observance: Retain Kwanzaa’s seven principles

Photo in public domainMONDAY, DECEMBER 26: Jews worldwide continue lighting candles in the eight-day festival of Hanukkah that began last week. And, today, millions of Africans light their own candles for a uniquely Pan-African holiday: Kwanzaa. Created in 1966 by Maulanga Karenga, Kwanzaa brings African culture into the holiday season with seven candles representing seven principles of African heritage and delicious feasts of traditional African food. (Wikipedia has details.) Each year, Kwanzaa begins Dec. 26 and lasts seven days, until Jan. 1. As Kwanzaa has evolved, is has become more of a complement to Christmas—as opposed to an alternative—yet still retains its meaningful name, which is Swahili for “first fruits (of the harvest).” (Get interactive information from Today, Kwanzaa is celebrated in the U.S., Canada, France, Great Britain, Jamaica and Brazil.

Few specific rituals exist for Kwanzaa, although its three colors—black, red and green—are nearly always associated with the observance. Each day of Kwanzaa owns its own African principle, often marked by a black, red or green candle:

• Unity: To maintain unity of family, community, nation and race;

• Self-determination: To define and speak up for oneself;

• Collective Work and Responsibility: To maintain community and help solve others’ problems;

• Cooperative Economics: To create and maintain one’s own business, and share profit;

• Purpose: To work together in building and developing community;

• Creativity: To always do the most one can and leave anywhere better than one found it;

• Faith: To believe in one’s family, people and culture.

Other symbols common to Kwanzaa include corn, a kinara (candle holder), a communal cup, a flag and pieces of traditional African art. Gift giving has also become popular during Kwanzaa. (Learn about Kwanzaa and African heritage with crafts, coloring pages and related activities at Kaboose and Scholastic.)

Two years ago, Maya Angelou narrated the world’s first documentary about Kwanzaa, entitled “The Black Candle.” For information about sharing “The Black Candle” with your community or group, visit the film’s website; available packages, which vary by group size and purpose, include learning materials, film copies and fundraising ideas.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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