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Kwanzaa is an African American holiday which celebrates family, community and culture created by  Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1965. Dr. Maulana Karenga is professor and chair of the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. He is also chair of the President's Task Force on Multicultural Education and Campus Diversity at California State University, Long Beach.

Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 thru January 1. Kwanzaa represents the first fruits of the harvest celebrated in Africa. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits" in Swahili, a Pan-African language which is the most widely spoken African language.

Along with the Seven Principles (Nguzo Saba) and the seven days of Kwanzaa, there are seven symbols or implements that are used in the celebration of the holiday.

Along with the Seven Principles (Nguzo Saba) and the seven days of Kwanzaa, there are seven symbols or implements that are used in the celebration of the holiday. These seven items are arraigned in an area set up as a Kwanzaa altar or table in the home. On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder), then one of the seven principles is discussed. The principles, called the Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili) are values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing community among African-Americans. Kwanzaa also has seven basic symbols which represent values and concepts reflective of African culture.  An African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31.

The candle-lighting ceremony each evening provides the opportunity to gather and discuss the meaning of Kwanzaa. The first night, the black candle in the center is lit (and the principle of umoja/unity is discussed). One candle is lit each evening and the appropriate principle is discussed.

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(Above) Former AAMAN Member, Anjie Shores dances with a Northwoods Elementary School student as she, her husband Danny Mr. Adams taught the schools students about the African American holiday kwanzaa.

The Nguzo Saba of the seven days of Kwanzaa:

Day 1. Umoja means unity.
Day 2.
Kujichagulia means self-determination.
Day 3.
Ujima means working together.
Day 4.
Ujamaa means supporting each other.
Day 5.
Nia means purpose.
Day 6.
Kuumba means creativity.
Day 7.
Imani means faith, especially faith in ourselves.

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The 7 Symbols of Kwanzaa


Mkeka (m-KAY-kah)
Meaning: the Mat
Action: The symbols of Kwanzaa are arranged on the mkeka, which may be made of straw or African cloth. It symbolizes the foundation upon which communities are built.


Kikombe cha Umoja (kee-KOHM-bay cha oo-MOH-jah)
Meaning: the
Unity Cup.
Action: Celebrants drink from this cup in honor of their African ancestors. Before drinking, each person says "harambee," or "let's pull together."


Mazao (mah-ZAH-oh)
Meaning: the
Fruits, Nuts, and Vegetables.
Action: These remind celebrants of the harvest fruits that nourished the people of Africa.


Kinara (kee-NAH-rah)
Meaning: the
Candleholder, which holds seven candles.
Action: It said to symbolize stalks of corn that branch off to form new stalks, much as the human family is created.


Mishumaa Saba (mee-shoo-MAH SAH-ba)
Meaning: the
Seven Candles that represent the seven principles.
Action: A different candle is lit each day. Three candles on the left are
red; three on the right are green; and in the middle is a black candle.


Muhindi (moo-HEEN-dee) (singular, Vibunzi)
Meaning: the Ear of Corn
Action: Traditionally, one ear of corn is placed on the mkeka for each child present.


Zawadi (zah-WAH-dee)
Meaning: the
Action: Traditionally, educational and cultural gifts are given to children on January 1, the last day of Kwanzaa.

The 7  Principles of Kwanzaa


Umoja (oo-MOH-ja)
Action: Building a community that holds together.

kujichagulia (koo-jee-cha-goo-LEE-yah)
Action: Speaking for yourself and making choices that benefit the community.


Ujima (oo-JEE-mah)
Collective work and Responsibility.
Action: Helping others within the community.


Ujamaa (oo-JAH-ma)
Cooperative economics.
Action: Supporting businesses that care about the community.


Nia (nee-AH)
A sense of Purpose.
Action: Setting goals that benefit the community.



Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah)
Action: Making the community better and more beautiful.


Imani (ee-MAH-nee)
Action: Believing that a better world can be created for communities now and in the future.

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