Understanding and Celebrating Kwanzaa with Your Family

Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday held annually from December 26 to January 1. This holiday commemorates family, culture, unity, and the harvest. The word “Kwanzaa” comes from the Kiswahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning “first fruits [of the harvest].”

Kwanzaa focuses on seven essential principles, known as the Nguzo Saba. Each principle is represented by one day of the seven-day celebration. These principles are unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani).

During Kwanzaa, people traditionally decorate their homes with straw mats, ears of corn, and a candleholder called a kinara, which is adorned with red, green, and black candles. Red is said to represent ancestry and unity. Black is said to represent the people. Green is said to represent Africa. A candle is lit for each day of Kwanzaa, on the kinara, and celebrants may also exchange gifts. The entire celebration is capped with a feast on December 31, which is usually held at a community center and features traditional music and dancing.

Even though it is often thought of as a substitute for Christmas or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, and families who celebrate Kwanzaa often celebrate it in addition to Christmas, Hanukkah, or another religious holiday.  It was created with the community and cultural spirit of customary African harvest festivals in mind, but Kwanzaa is uniquely North American, being celebrated mainly in the US, Canada, and the Caribbean. 

How to Celebrate Kwanzaa

  1. Unity (Umoji): Share historical achievements that could not have been accomplished alone.
  2. Self-Determination (Kujichagulia): Eat apples to start a discussion about looking into the core of the self and reflecting on your strength.
  3. Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima): This is the perfect night for food and family. Everyone’s contribution will bring the family together.
  4. Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa): Remember to support Black businesses and one another. Choose a Black-owned business for one of your Kwanzaa celebration meals.
  5. Purpose (Nia): Consider inviting neighbors and serving homemade goods who could use some extra support or a sense of connection.
  6. Creativity (Kuumba): Play musical instruments and have a jam session with festive music or put on your favorite playlist and dance the night away.
  7. Faith (Imani): This is often a day of self-reflection that ends with the sharing of gifts. Focus on everyone who came before you, all who are around you, and everyone who will come after you.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of A Second Chance, Inc.

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