The kinara, used to celebrate Kwanzaa

Get your kinaras (candleholders) out. Kwanzaa’s turning 50, and it’s time to celebrate.

Kwanzaa, the seven-day celebration that honors African-American and Pan-African culture while affirming black pride, begins Monday and runs through Jan. 1.


Dr. Maulana Karenga, who heads the Africana-studies department at California State University, Long Beach, established the holiday in the midst of the civil rights movement as a celebration of family, community and culture. But more importantly, Kwanzaa is about freedom.

“Kwanzaa is a celebration of freedom, of the freedom struggle itself in which Kwanzaa is grounded, a celebration of our choosing to free ourselves and be ourselves as Africans, and to rejoice in the richness of our history and culture of awesome and audacious striving and struggle,” said Karenga in his 50th Anniversary Founder’s Kwanzaa Statement.

The holiday’s name comes from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning “first fruits,” and is based on its founding principles, or the Nguzo Saba (the Seven Principles): Umoja, unity; Kujichagulia, self-determination; Ujima, collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, cooperative economics; Nia, purpose; Kuumba, creativity and Imani, faith. The kinara burns seven candles (which are red, black and green), each signifying a principle.

The Kwanzaa celebration ends with reflection, or the Day of Meditation. On this introspective day, it is traditional to ask the three kawaida questions: “Who am I?” “Am I really who I say I am?” and “Am I all I ought to be?”


If you’ve never celebrated Kwanzaa, this 50-year anniversary is the opportune time to give it a try.

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