Kwanzaa, a week-long celebration spanning from late December to early January, is celebrated around the United States and Canada to honor African heritage.
The first specifically African-American holiday, Kwanzaa was created in the 1960s as a holiday for people to celebrate their African heritage through food, decorations and gift-giving. Though formed originally as a part of the Black Nationalist Movement of the sixties, Kwanzaa has become a mainstream holiday, celebrated along with Christmas by African-Americans across the country.
Kwanzaa was named for the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanzaa,” or “fruits of the harvest.” The holiday’s foundation lies in the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, one for each day of the holiday: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith).
Along with the Seven Principles, families celebrating Kwanzaa often light a kinara, a candelabra with spots for seven candles of three different colors. Three green candles represent the land of Africa, the single black candle represents the people of Africa and the three red candles represent the bloodshed Africans have gone through.
In most homes, a unity cup is present. The cup is supposed to honor African ancestors, and each adherent drinks from it with a toast of unity. Corn, fruits, other vegetables and a mat on which all the symbols are placed, are also common objects in celebrants’ homes.
Houses celebrating Kwanzaa try to connect with African roots, decorating the home with symbols and cloths of Africa. Those celebrating Christmas as well generally have a Christmas tree and blend the principles and symbols of both holidays.
Though at one point Kwanzaa was popular among African-Americans around the country, as the Black Power Movement has lost chutzpah, Kwanzaa has lost adherents. Though it is still nationally recognized as popular, with postage stamps and greeting cards, according to an unscientific poll taken of readers by the primarily African-American magazine The Root, Kwanzaa celebrations are dwindling. People just don’t celebrate the holiday anymore.
For those who do celebrate the holiday, December 26 through January 1 will be rich with discussing history, telling stories of ancestors and honoring one’s roots. Though less popular than before, Kwanzaa is a holiday still important to many across America.