Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday which falls between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It was founded by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a University of California at Los Angeles professor from Nigeria; he chose this seven day period for the observance in order to provide African Americans an alternative to Christmas, which he viewed as a European holiday. He also wanted to make Kwanzaa easy to celebrate by placing it during a week when many people were already celebrating and had time off from work or school. Kwanzaa Begins on December 26 and ends on the 1st of January.
Dr. Karenga hoped that the new holiday, based on practices and symbols associated with African harvest festivals, would provide an ethnic celebration that all African-Americans could observe, regardless of religious affiliation. He also sought to create a holiday that emphasized communal and spiritual values, rather than the materialism he found rampant in American Christmas celebrations.
Karenga created the word “Kwanzaa” from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means ‘first fruits.’ Many African first fruit celebrations, or harvest festivals, last between seven and nine days. Accordingly, Karenga decided to have the new American festival continue for seven days. He added the extra ‘a’ to the Swahili word kwanza so that the name was a new holiday, Kwanzaa, would contain seven letters.
Karenga selected seven principles from among the values most commonly held in high esteem by the people of Africa and honoured in their harvest celebration. One of the seven principles of Kwanzaa is celebrated on each of the seven days of the festival. The seven principles include umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith). Kwanzaa celebrations also feature a seven-branched candleholder called a kinara. The kinara holds red, green and black candles, colours symbolic of the African identity. One candle is lit on each of the seven nights. On December 31st celebrants participate in a communal feast. Then on January 1st, the last day, modest gifts are exchanged.
Since its founding in 1966 Kwanzaa has steadily grown in popularity. Millions of people will observe this celebration each year.