Kwanzaa, December 26 – January 1 every year, is an African-American holiday tradition that celebrates seven principles from our communal African heritage.
The tradition was founded by activist Ron Karenga in 1966. Today, most families observe Kwanzaa in addition to Christmas.
As an African-American, Kwanzaa reconnects us with traditions that were stripped from our ancestors. For everyone else, Kwanzaa has something to offer too. After all, these are principles of humanity, so if you are human, there is something here for you.
The Seven Principles
- Umoja ~ Unity
- Kujichagulia ~ Self-Determination
- Ujima ~ Collective Work and Responsibility
- Ujamaa ~ Cooperative Economics
- Nia ~ Purpose
- Kuumba ~ Creativity
- Imani ~ Faith
The daily Kwanzaa greeting is “Habari Gani?” which is Swahili for “How are you?”
The language of Kwanzaa is based on Swahili, the Bantu east African language. Swahili has Arabic influences from the traders who used to work the coasts of Africa. These same Arab traders brought a Hindu numbering system to Europe which we now know as Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3…). The connection is obvious in “shukrani” (thanks) which is similar to “shukria” which is how you say thank you in Urdu, the language of Muslim Pakistan.
The Mkeka is the mat on which other symbols are placed.
The Kinara is a seven-candle candelabra.
The Mishumaa Saba are the seven candles.
Mazao are the African crops.
Mahindi is corn. Ears of corn represent children.
The Kikombe cha Umoja is the unity cup.
Zawadi are gifts.