Celebrating Kwanzaa

Photo Credit: Kaneva.com
Photo Credit: Kaneva.com

Are you or your family celebrating Kwanzaa? This is a question I have been asked.  My family never celebrated Kwanzaa but as grew up I became more aware of the celebration.

Kwanzaa was first observed in 1966 by  Maulana Karenga, the founder of the seven day festival celebrating African heritage. The festival begins on December 26th  and goes through January 1st. Each day is dedicated to a principle and each day a candle is lit, gifts are exchanged and  dinner is served.

Photo Credit: parent.moon.com
Photo Credit: parent.moon.com

The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili.  Kwanzaa was created to reaffirm and restore our rootedness in African culture.  Secondly, Kwanzaa was created to serve as a regular communal celebration to reaffirm and reinforce the bonds between us as a people.  Thirdly, Kwanzaa was created to introduce and reinforce the Nguzo Saba (the Seven Principles.) These seven communitarian African values are:

Photo Credit: atreegrowsinbklyn.wordpress.com
Photo Credit: atreegrowsinbklyn.wordpress.com

This stress on the Nguzo Saba was at the same time an emphasis on the importance of African communitarian values in general, which stress family, community and culture and speak to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense. And Kwanzaa was conceived as a fundamental and important way to introduce and reinforce these values and cultivate appreciation for them.

The 7 steps to celebrating Kwanzaa starts by decorating your home or a room with symbols of Kwanzaa. Decorate the room with the Bandera, called the Kwanzaa flags. Practice the Kwanzaa greeting. Everyone should be greeted by saying “Habari Gani” which means in Swahili “what is the news?” Light the Kinara daily, signifying each principle. Celebrate in a variety of ways throughout the seven days which may include drumming or musical selections, the candle lighting ritual of the Kinara, artistic performances and more. Have the Kwanzaa “Karamu” feast on the sixth day. It is a communal and cooperative effort. And lastly give the gifts of Kuumba. These gifts are usually exchanged between parent and child on January 1st. The gifts should be educational or artistic in nature.

If you are interested in celebrating with others there will be an event on December 30, 2013 at 2pm at the Carver Branch Library, located at 1161 Angelina Street. For more information you can call 512-974-1010 or visit their website at http://library.austintexas.gov.

Contributed information from  www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org and   http://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/society/kwanzaa.html

Let Us Hear From You: If you have or will be celebrating Kwanzaa, please let us know about it. We would love to hear stories from our community in celebration of this festival.


Damita Miller-Shanklin is the Publisher of Ujima Magazine and host of Ujima TV and co-host of Ujima Sistah Radio Show.

One thought on “Celebrating Kwanzaa

  1. Thank you for this simple breakdown. This would be the first time my family is celebrating Kwanzaa and I was asked to lead it. Thank you.
    Blessing to you and your family.


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