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Kwanzaa is celebrated during our Mbongi; you can watch how to prepare Kwanzaa by clicking below. 


Ayo Maria Gooden, Ph.D., ABPBC


Origin of Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga as an African American and Pan-African cultural holiday.  It was designed to appeal to people of African ancestry, regardless of religious affiliations by focusing on the dedication to African values that build and maintain strong families and communities. 

The word Kwanzaa was taken from the Swahili phrase, “Matunda ya Kwanza” which means “first fruits.”  Dr. Karenga added the extra “a” to distinguish the holiday from the Swahili word.  It is a seven-day celebration starting on December 26 and ending on January 1, when Zawadi (gifts) are given to Watoto (children).

Although Kwanzaa was designed as an annual community celebration, it may be celebrated in the privacy of your home. Libations are poured to honor The Creator of all things and the ancestors (family members and other people of African ancestry who have passed on).  

How to Celebrate Kwanzaa


The color scheme should be black, red and green in addition to African patterns and artifacts.  The Kinara, Mazao, Muhindi and Kikombe cha Umoja are placed on the Mkeka.

Lighting the Mishumaa Saba:

The black candle is lit first.  Black represents African people and is placed in the middle. The red candles are placed to the left of the black candle and represent the struggle that we experience prior to our success which is represented by the green candles.  The green candles are placed to the right of the black candle, represent hope and our future.  Candles are alternately lit starting with the black candle each day then the red candle then the green candle until they are all lit on the last day, Imani, January 1.

After lighting the black candle, the eldest person to the youngest, discusses how she or he has embraced Umoja in the past and describes her/his future plans to embrace this principle. The second day Kujichagulia is discussed and then each of the other principles on the subsequent days.  On the last day, Imani, Zawadi are given to the Watoto.  Zawadi should be educational items such as books, puzzles, chess sets, etc.


Kwanzaa Symbols

MAZAO (Crops)-Fresh fruits are used to symbolize African harvests which as a Kwanzaa symbol represent the rewards of your labors.

Mkeka (Mat)-The Mkeka represents our need for a strong foundation of history and tradition to build our families and communities.

Kinara (Candle Holder)-The Kinara is symbolic of our roots including our parents, grandparents, and other ancestors.

Muhindi (Corn)-Muhindi represents our children (watoto) or potential children and the future they embody.

Mishumaa Saba (Seven Candles)-Each candle represents one of the Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles).  One of the Nguzo Saba is celebrated on each of the seven days starting with the first principle, Umoja.

Kikombe Cha Umoja (Unity Cup)-The Kikomba Cha Umoja symbolizes unity.

Zawadi (Gifts)-Zawadi symbolize the labor and love of parents and the commitments made and kept by the children.

Bendera (Flag)-The Pan-African red, black, and green flag (Designed by the Honorable Marcus Garvey, Jr.).



(The Seven Principles)


Umoja (Unity) December 26: To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) December 27To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) December 28To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) December 29: To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Nia (Purpose) December 30To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Kuumba (Creativity) December 31: To do always as much as we can to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

Imani (Faith) January 1: To believe in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory or our struggle.


Karenga, M. (1989). The African American Holiday of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community & Culture.

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