Camille Yarborough sings African music in view of a traditional kinara during a news preview of a Kwanzaa festival held at New York’s American Museum of Natural History on Dec. 22, 2004.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Heri za Kwanzaa!

The weeklong celebration of African heritage officially begins Dec. 26, when observers will come together and rejoice in family, community and culture.


According to the Official Kwanzaa website, the name of the holiday comes from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning “first fruits.” Established in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, who believed in the need to preserve, revitalize and promote African-American culture, it has roots in the black freedom movement. Kwanzaa is therefore more of a cultural holiday than a religious one.

At the center of Kwanzaa is the Nguzo Saba, or the Seven Principles, of which many are familiar by now:

* Umoja, or unity, which means “to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race”;

* Kujichagulia, or self-determination, which means “to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves”;

* Ujima, or collective work and responsibility, meaning “to build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together”;

* Ujamaa, or cooperative economics, meaning “to build and maintain our own stores, shops and other business to profit from them together”;

* Nia, or purpose, which means “to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness”;

* Kuumba, or creativity, which means “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”; and

* Imani, or faith, meaning “to believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

Popular symbols and decorations in Kwanzaa include the kinara, or candleholder, which holds the seven candles representing the Nguzo Saba. The colors preferred are black, representing the people; red, representing the people’s struggle; and green, representing hope for the future. Festivities often include dancing and singing.


Kwanzaa officially ends at the dawn of the New Year, Jan. 1, marking the Day of Meditation. The site notes that traditionally, African people often self-reflected during this time, leading to the tradition of asking the three Kawaida questions: “Who am I?” “Am I really who I say I am?” and “Am I all I ought to be?”

Share This Story

Get our newsletter