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Days of Kwanzaa ‐ Relating to the Seven Principles

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Kwanzaa: A Brief Description


Where does the word "Kwanzaa" come from?
  • The word "Kwanzaa" comes from the phrase, "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first-fruits." Kwanzaa's extra "a" evolved as a result of a particular history of the Organization Us. It was done as an expression of African values in order to inspire the creativity of our children. In the early days of Us, there were seven children who each wanted to represent a letter of Kwanzaa. Since kwanza (first) has only six letters, we added an extra "a" to make it seven, thus creating "Kwanzaa."
Why is Kwanzaa a seven-day holiday?

Kwanzaa is a seven-day holiday for two reasons:

  • In terms of authenticity, Kwanzaa is modeled on first-fruits celebrations in ancient Africa, especially on Southern African first-fruits celebrations like Umkhosi of Zululand which has seven days. The central reason for Kwanzaa's being seven days is to stress the Nguzo Saba and through this introduce and reaffirm communitarian values and practices which strengthen and celebrate family, community, and culture.

There is a traditionally established way of celebrating Kwanzaa. We should therefore observe these guidelines to make our Kwanzaa the most beautiful and engaging one and to keep the tradition. Without definite guidelines and core values and practices there is no holiday.

First, you should come to the celebration with a profound respect for its values, symbols and practices and do nothing to violate its integrity, beauty and expansive meaning.

Secondly, you should not mix the Kwanzaa holiday or its symbols, values and practice with any other culture. This would violate the principles of Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) and thus violate the integrity of the holiday.

Thirdly, choose the best and most beautiful items to celebrate Kwanzaa. This means taking time to plan and select the most beautiful objects of art, colorful African cloth, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc. so that every object used represents African culture and your commitment to the holiday in the best of ways.

The Celebration

First, a central place in the home for the Kwanzaa Set, the symbols of Kwanzaa is chosen. A table is then spread with a beautiful piece of African cloth. Then, the mkeka (mat) is placed down and all of the other symbols are placed on it or immediately next to it to symbolize our rootedness in our tradition. Next the Kinara (candle holder) is placed on the mat and the Mishumaa Saba (seven candles) are placed in the kinara.

The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green; black for the people, red for their struggle, and green for the future and hope that comes from their struggle. Therefore there is one black candle, three red and three green candles. These are the mishumaa saba (the seven candles) and they represent the Seven Principles. The black candle represents the first principle Umoja (unity) and is placed in the center of the kinara. The red candles represent the principles of Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujamaa (cooperative economics) and Kuumba (creativity) and are placed to the left of the black candle. The green candles represent the principles of Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Nia (purpose) and Imani (faith) and are placed to the right of the black candle. The black candle is lit first on the first day of the celebration. And the remaining candles are lit afterwards from left to right on the following days. This procedure is to indicate that the people come first, then the struggle and then the hope that comes from the struggle.

Kwanzaa Directory

2021 | Annual Kwanzaa Theme

"Practicing Kwanzaa and the Seven Principles:
Ensuring the Well-Being of the World"

Annual Founder’s Kwanzaa Messages

Dr. Maulana Karenga

Kwanzaa at the Center

Calendar of Events

Kwanzaa for Children

Fruit bowls

The Founder's Welcome

Dr. Maulana Karenga

As an African American and Pan-African holiday celebrated by millions throughout the world African community, Kwanzaa brings a cultural message which speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense. Given the profound significance Kwanzaa has for African Americans and indeed, the world African community, it is imperative that an authoritative source and site be made available to give an accurate and expansive account of its origins, concepts, values, symbols and practice...


*Material on this site is summarized from:
  • Maulana Karenga (2008).
  • Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture.
  • Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press
  • (


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