Kwanzaa: What This Holiday Means to Me

Back in my college days (no, I won't date myself), I went through a real transformation about self and identity. Some traditions that were a part of my past didn't seem to fit anymore; I had a new consciousness about what it meant to be a young black woman in America.


A guy I dated had a very culturally rich family; although they were African American, their home was filled with African art and artifacts. I absolutely loved how their home looked and felt. In it were things I'd never seen before, including a Kinara, a beautifully carved wooden candle holder that held 3 red, 3 green and 1 black pillar. It was my introduction to Kwanzaa--a cultural holiday celebration close to my heart. What I like most about Kwanzaa is that it isn't religious holiday per se, it's something that everyone--no matter what else you celebrate--can partake in.

Based on seven Swahili principles, each day of Kwanzaa represents something for the African American community (and really anyone of good will) to strive for year long. In a traditional Kwanzaa celebration, every night the family gathers around the kinara and lights a different candle, sips from the unity cup, exchanges meaningful (and often handmade or artistic) gifts and talks about the future (children), the past (ancestors are very important in many African cultures) and the day's principle.

Kwanzaa is celebrated from Dec 26- Jan 1. These are the seven principals also known as the "Nguzo Saba."

  • Umoja (Unity): To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
  • Kujichagulia (Self-determination):  To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
  • Ujima (Collective work and responsibility): To build and maintain our community together; to be our brother's and sister's keepers.
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain businesses in the community and to support them.
  • Nia (Purpose): To have personal and collective goals based on the best of our culture and traditional greatness.
  • Kuumba (Creativity): To always do as much as we can, in the way that we can, in order to leave our community and world more beautiful and beneficial that we inherited it. To create and respect art and beauty. To use ingenuity and our creative minds always. 
  • Imani (Faith): To believe with all of our heart in our parents, teachers, and leaders and the righteousness of our struggle.

How ironic that my first child, born so many years after college, was born during Kwanzaa. This year for his 5th birthday, we are having a huge family Kwanzaa celebration and feast with friends and family from near and far. This holiday brought added meaning to my life in so many ways; I'm happy to share about it with you. Happy Kwanzaa!!!

(Oh, don't forget to read about Yule, another beautiful holiday this season.)

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