History of Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa was founded by California State University professor, Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. Karenga was inspired to found the celebration after the Watts riots. He wanted to unite African Americans. Karenga combined different aspects of harvest traditions from tribes like the Ashanti and Zulu tribe to form what we know today as Kwanzaa.
The word Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase, matunda ya kwanza;” it means “first fruits.” Kwanzaa celebrations commence December 26 and end January 1. Each day of the celebration is highlighted by a principle. There are a total of 7 Kwanzaa principles.
Kinaras, candle holders are used to represent every principle. Every night before the day ends, a child is to light the candle of the day to solidify that day’s celebrations. The 7 Kwanzaa principles are; Umoja (unity,) Kujichagulia (Self-determination,) Ujima (collective work & responsibility,) Ujamaa (cooperative economics,) Nia (purpose) Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith.)
It’s common for many African Americans to feel intimidated at the idea of being the first ones in their family to celebrate Kwanzaa, especially when they’re learning about it for the first time. However, if the year of 2020 has taught us anything it’s that now is the time to immerse ourselves in our roots and stand firm on our beautiful traditions. Looking back in retrospect at how and why Kwanzaa was founded and comparing it to today’s recent protest against police brutality, celebrating Kwanzaa this year feels like a full circle moment.
How to celebrate (what you need)
The Kinara is used to hold and display the Kwanzaa candles. Kinaras aren’t usually sold in household stores. Most likely, you’ll need to search for a business that sells them. They come in all shapes, sizes, and designs.
2. Mishumaa Saba (7 candles)
Each candle represents a principle. The candles are the color of the Pan-African flag.
3. 7 symbols
To accompany the seven principles, Dr. Maulana Karenga also created the seven symbols. These symbols are to be placed around the Kinara. The seven symbols are; Mazao (crops) Mkeka (place mat) Vibunzi (ear of corn) Mishumaa Saba (7 candles) Kinara (candle holder) Kikombe Cha Umoja (the unity cup) and Zawadi (the gifts).
Each symbol has a special meaning. Mazao represents the harvest, joy, and fellowship. Mkeka represents history, culture, and traditions. Vibunzi represents fertility. Mishumaa Saba represent the ceremony of the traditional in addition to light. Kinara represents the roots of where we came from. Kikombe cha Umoja represents the coming together of the ancestors. (Because this doesn’t align with my religious beliefs, my family and I don’t participate in this ritual). Lastly, Zawadi represents giving wholeheartedly!
I encourage anyone celebrating Kwanzaa to celebrate each day however they feel best represents each principle. The ultimate goal is to become one with your community! Happy celebrating and happy Kwanzaa!