What Is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is a 7 day festival celebrating the African American people, their culture and their history. It is a time of celebration, community gathering, and reflection. A time of endings and beginnings. Kwanzaa begins on December 26th and continues until New Years Day, January 1st. Kwanzaa, a relatively new holiday that started in the 1960s and today is celebrated by 18 million Americans has gained in popularity. The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa inspire familes to use  these principles are evoked in African American homes.

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Kwanzaa is  derived from  Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” meaning “first fruits of the harvest” During the holiday of Kwanzaa, many people exchange greetings in Swahili.

The official colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green? These colors, represented in the candles lit each night, also are included in home decorations. Other decorations feature traditional African items, such as baskets, cloths, and harvest symbols.

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The holiday was developed in 1966 by activist Dr. Maulana Karenga to celebrate African American culture. Celebrants light a candle during each day. The first candle is black, symbolizing the African American people. The next three are red, representing the struggles of the black people. Next are three green candles, which symbolize hope for the future. The candles are lit from left to right.

The key principles celebrated  are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

On the last full day of Kwanzaa celebrants enjoy a large feast. This feast, called karamu,  and is the high point of the holiday.

Here are the traditions associated with each day:

The First Day: The black candle represents the first principle – Umoja (oo-MOH-jah): Unity. The person who lights the candle might make a statement about the first principle and its meaning. Sometimes a passage or poem is read relating to what the principle means and how it relates to their life.

The Second Day: On the second day the black candle is again lit, as well as the farthest red candle on the left. This represents the 2nd principle of Kwanzaa – Kujichagulia (koo-jee-chah-goo-LEE-ah): Self-Determination

The Third  Day: On the third day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, and then the farthest right green candle. This represents the 3rd principle of Kwanzaa – Ujima (oo-JEE-mah): Collective work and responsibility.

The Fourth Day: On the fourth day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, the farthest right green. And then the next red candle on the left. This represents the 4th principle of Kwanzaa – Ujamaa (oo-jah-MAH): Collective economics.

The Fifth Day: On the fifth day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, the farthest right green, the next red and then the next green candle. This represents the 5th principle of Kwanzaa – Nia (NEE-ah): Purpose.

The Sixth Day: On the sixth day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, the farthest right green, the next red, the next green and then the final red candle. This represents the 6th principle of Kwanzaa – Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah): Creativity. This is the day of the Kwanzaa Karamu or Kwanzaa Feast. In the spirit of celebration and many families invite their friends and family to join in the festivities.

The Seventh Day: On the seventh day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, the farthest right green, the next red candle, the next green, the final red and then the final green candle. This represents the 7th principle of Kwanzaa – Imani (ee-MAH-nee): Faith.

This year Kwanzaa begins Monday December 26, 2011.

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