By Trish Johnson

This holiday season many in the black community are preparing for the annual celebration of Kwanzaa.

The holiday was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana Studies at California State University. He created the holiday in response to the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles as a way to bring African-Americans together as a community, and as a ritual representing the welcoming of the first harvests to the home.

During this seven-day celebration, families and communities organize and create activities around The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa:

  • Umoja (Unity)
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
  • Nia (Purpose)
  • Kuumba (Creativity)
  • Imani (Faith)

The name comes from the Swahili phrase “Matunda Ya Kwanza” which means “first fruits.”

It begins on December 26, 2021, and continues through January 1, 2022.

To celebrate, participants decorate in pan-African colors – red, black, and green, and light candles (the Mishumaa Saba) in a special candle holder (Kinara.) The candles are placed on the Kwanzaa mat (the Mkeka.)

The black candle is lit on the first night, followed by a red or green candle on each subsequent night until all seven candles are lit. Each candle-lighting ritual provides the chance to reflect on the Kwanzaa principle of the day, and to think about how you can better yourself and the community in the coming year.

On the sixth night of Kwanzaa, December 31st, the Karamu feast is held. Participants decorate the table with ears of corn (one for each child in the family) and seasonal fruits. A drink from the unity cup (Kikombe Cha Umoja) is taken to honor the ancestors, then it is time for the feast! Kwanzaa’s focus is on collaboration, so it is often encouraged that everyone bring their favorite dish, and make it a potluck affair.

On the seventh day of Kwanzaa, participants exchange presents, which are chosen to support the seven principles of the holiday.