Kwanzaa: Africans of Diaspora share heritage, culture

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 26: Light candles on the kinara, take a sip from the unity cup and review the seven principles of African Heritage, on the cultural celebration of Kwanzaa. For seven days, Africans in the Diaspora observe Kwanzaa with family and friends. From the Swahili phrase Matunda ya kwanza (“first fruits of the harvest”), Kwanzaa was created to unify those of African heritage and to give African-Americans their own holiday—to commemorate their own history. (Wikipedia has details.)

Did you know? Kwanzaa is based on African harvest festivals, such as those of the Ashanti and Zulu.

In the midst of the Black Nationalist movement of the 1960s, Maulana Karenga established Kwanzaa, and the holiday will reach its 50th anniversary year in 2016. This year’s theme is: “Celebrating and Living Kwanzaa: Sowing and Harvesting Seeds of Good.” Most observing families will decorate their homes with African art and colorful cloths, while women wear traditional kaftans. Fresh fruits native to Africa will fill bowls around the home, and even non-African Americans can use the greeting: Joyous Kwanzaa!

Though Kwanzaa was originally intended as an alternative to Christmas, it has evolved to complement it. Elements of Kwanzaa typically include mkeka (a decorative mat), muhindi (corn), a kinara (candle holder) with seven candles, zawadi (gifts) and a unity cup. (Learn more of the history and significance of Kwanzaa at To the beat of drums and traditional music, participants learn about African history and pour libation for ancestors. Communally, artistic performances and a karamu (feast) are common.


Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of its principles. The seven principles include: unity (in the family, community, nation and race); self-determination (to define, create and speak for ourselves); collective work and responsibility (to solve problems communally); cooperative economics (to support each other in business); purpose (to develop the community to its full potential); creativity (to do what we can to leave the community better than we found it); and faith (to believe in one another and the African American leaders).

Red, black and green are the representative colors of Kwanzaa.


Piping-hot corn bread, sweet potatoes, collard greens and grits are the centerpiece foods for a Kwanzaa feast, and Food Network offers full menu recipes.  Children are invited to make Kwanzaa paper dolls, hear a Kwanzaa song or learn more about the holiday, with help from Scholastic; Spoonful, a Disney site, suggests seven ways to celebrate Kwanzaa, including instructions on making a unity cup.

Want Kwanzaa books? ReadTheSpirit has looked at a lot of the Kwanzaa books produced over the last decade and we can recommend: For the youngest readers, My First Kwanzaa; children also love the folktale in Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story that highlights the principles of Kwanzaa; Donna Washington gets high praise for her beautiful illustrations in The Story of Kwanzaa; then Maulana Karenga’s own book, Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, is a bit more challenging to find these days but it is available at many local libraries.

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