What is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa begins on December 26th each year. Learn more about this Afrocentric holiday celebration.

Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African family, culture, and community. It lasts from December 26 to January 1 each year.

The word “Kwanzaa” means “first” and is derived from the Swahili phrase, matunda ya kwanza, which means “first fruits.”

A different principle is celebrated each day.

  • Umoja (Unity) 

  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)

  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)

  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

  •  Nia (Purpose)

  • Kuumba (Creativity)

  • Imani (Faith)

On each day of Kwanzaa a candle is lit. The candles are red, black, and green, the colors of the pan-African flag. The candles are held in a kinara.

There are also seven symbols associated with Kwanzaa.

  • fruits, vegetables, and nuts

  • a straw mat

  • a candleholder

  • ears of corn (maize)

  • gifts

  • a communal cup

  • seven candles

Families celebrate a communal feast called the karamu on December 31.

Kwanzaa is a nonreligious holiday that began in 1966 when Maulana Karenga, a Black activist and professor, devised it as a celebration of African heritage and principles.