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The First Timer's Simplified Guide to Kwanzaa


As we all enter the pandemic winter of 2020, boredom, anxiety, Zoom family gatherings and bingeing too many timeless holiday classics on your streaming service of preference will be at all time highs. Warning: There is a corny christmas joke ahead in the next line, so read at your own peril! For some, 2020 may have ba-rum-pum-pum pummeled their Christmas spirit and seasonal generosity, save for the modern-day stoic or the detached. If you are in the first group or consider Christmas a little stale in one way or another consider this suggestion: Give Kwanzaa a try! I am serious. In this post, I will attempt to answer questions about What is Kwanzaa, How is it Celebrated, and How you can prepare to celebrate Kwanzaa THIS CHRIST-Mas! Ok, I promise no more holiday puns or jokes moving forward. Those who are still reading, let’s move on!

What is Kwanzaa? How was it created? What is the purpose?

Kwanzaa is an African American/African Holiday which originates from the Swahili phrase ‘matunda ya kwanza’ which means ‘first fruits of the harvest’. Kwanzaa (Holiday) was actualized by Maulana Karenga, a professor of California State University, who wanted to find a way to unite the African American community after the Watts riots in the late 60s. He started by observing fruit harvest festivals from different tribes in Africa and nearby regions. Afterwards, Dr.Karenga combined different parts of different fruit harvest celebrations to form the Kwanzaa we have now ( - Kwanzaa History). Arguably, Kwanzaa’s main purpose is to unite the African American community. How so? Interestingly, The University of Pennsylvania (upenn)suggests that Kwanzaa was Dr.Karenga’s rebuttal to Christmas’ mass commercialism for the African American community. They even go as far as saying Kwanzaa is closer to the true spirit of Thanksgiving rather than Christmas.

The 7 Principles of Kwanzaa:

Kwanzaa has 7 principles each based on a swahili word: 1.) Umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia(purpose), kuumba(creativity), and imani (faith). Each candle represents one of the seven principles mentioned above in addition to the colors on the African Liberation Movements flag. Black to represent the people (1 stripe), Red for the struggle of african american people (3 stripes), and Green for the future and the hope that comes from that struggle (3 stripes).

As I mentioned above, The 7 principles (nguzo saba) are the ideals of Kwanzaa which each day starting from December the 26th to January the 1st should emphasize. Thanks to the professionals at I can provide each day’s theme with some clarity:

Unity (umoja):

The first day’s theme is Unity (umoja), of family, community, race, and nation (i.e., maintaining family/community bonds)

Self-Determination (kujichagulia):

The second, Self-Determination (kujichagulia) to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves (i.e., Make or do for yourself).

Collective Work and Responsibility (ujima):

The third, Collective work and Responsibility (ujima) to build our community and help each other out (i.e., Offer to help a neighbor with their issues).

Cooperative Economics (ujamaa):

The Fourth, Cooperative Economics (ujamaa), is to build up our businesses and ventures and share the profit together.

Purpose (nia):

The Fifth, Purpose (nia) to make our collective focus (kwanzaa attendees) building and developing our community to restore our people to their original greatness (i.e., Focus on bigger issues plaguing humanity than individual issues).

Creativity (kuumba):

The Sixth, Creativity (kuumba), is to do all in your power to leave your community better than you entered it. There is a feast on the sixth day called the karamu feast where everyone can drink together simultaneously to promote unity. According to many sources, This feast is usually filled to the brim with a variety of delicious soul foods, desserts, and beverages of African descent (,, can be focused on gradually improving personal or social issues.


Finally, Faith (imani), to believe completely in yourself and your community


Q: Do I need to be African American to celebrate Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa, although heavily afro-centric, can be practiced and/or adopted by anyone regardless of race or nationality since the emphasis is on community oneness (Sunrise Senior Living). The practices of kwanzaa can vary highly from person to person as long as each day follows one of the 7 principles. In simple terms, kwanzaa is a time to build up our community, family, and livelihood in a variety of ways to build a stronger network over time.

How is Kwanzaa Celebrated? What if I already follow a specific faith? Tips and advice

Q: What things are needed to celebrate Kwanzaa?


There are Kwanzaa symbols that are important to have around your home when celebrating. Crops (Mazao) a link to the legacy of African-Americans in agriculture and its reward. The mat (mkeka), Candle holder (kinara), Corn (muhindi), Gifts (zawadi), Unity Cup (kkimbe cha umoja), and the Seven Candles (mishumaa saba), 3 red, 3 green, and 1 black (upenn).

Q: What else do I need to know about Kwanzaa? What if I follow a religion?

More importantly, Kwanzaa participants must greet everyone with the Swahili phrase, “Habari gani?” (What’s the news?) on each of the seven days. Depending on which day of Kwanzaa, you’ll hear a different reply which will be one of the principles (i.e., umoja - unity).

In addition to this, Gifts are given to children on the seventh day of Kwanzaa. It is vital that these gifts are meaningful and given to award accomplishments. Gifts can be an opportunity to promote self-determination so many may be handmade with the additional benefit of avoiding Christmas consumerism. Accepting a gift means that you accept the burden needed to fulfill the promise of a gift and makes the receiver a part of the family (mangolanguages).

For the religious, Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration not a religious one so people of all faiths are welcomed to participate. For those who celebrate different winter holidays, Kwanzaa can be celebrated alone or right after Christmas or Hanukkah which means two times the family time and gifts.

How can I get started?

As long as you have the symbols (crops, mat, candle holder, corn, gifts, unity cup and seven candles *3 red,3 green,1 black*) and follow the seven principles of Kwanzaa dutifully, your family’s Kwanzaa tradition can vary as much as necessary. Greet others with the phrase "Habari Gani"? (what's the new) from December 26 to January 1st. You should hear one of the seven principles replied back to you.

During each day of Kwanzaa, All participants will focus on following a certain principle based on the day (i.e., first day - umoja - focus on promoting unity). For values of each day in Kwanzaa, look at the '7 Principles of Kwanzaa' section above. It is in a short listicle format for speed and readability. During the sixth day is a feast called Karamu ya imani (feast of faith), it has its own process which is provided here (section headed Karamu/Kwanzaa Feast) by the university of buffalo but if it is too complex it is possible to skip it.

When buying gifts for others make sure the gift is either home made or educational and from an african-american owned business to avoid over-commercialization. It is possible to celebrate Kwanzaa and Christmas since the former occurs after the latter. For the religious, Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration so people of all faiths are welcome to participate. It can be celebrated alongside Christmas or Hanukkah so you don't have to pick one or the other.

Call To Action:

If you haven’t already, Try to celebrate Kwanzaa along with Christmas or Hanukkah I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Otherwise, please subscribe to the blog today and share your thoughts on the Kwanzaa practices mentioned or let me know if I missed some in the comment section below while you're at it.

If you decide to celebrate Kwanzaa for the first time or just want some delicious and healthy food for the holidays, Check out Solo's Food for an extensive holiday menu with many soul classics such as Jerk Chicken, Sweet Potato Spiced Coffee, and More.

Otherwise, The solo’s team wants you to keep your holiday spirit alive and well this winter. From the blog dedicated to providing you content that's good for the mind and soul, Stay safe and see everyone next time!

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