Seven Days of Kwanzaa: How to Celebrate the African-American Heritage

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It seems like only yesterday, we enjoyed a nice roasted turkey and scrumptious foods on Thanksgiving Day. Then we have our Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations. But for some Americans the celebrating doesn’t end there.

Many observe another holiday called Kwanzaa!

Kwanzaa is a 7-day festival celebrating the African-American Heritage. It is runs from the 26th of December to the 1st of January.

Interesting Facts about Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is the brainchild of Dr. Maulana Karenga – a professor of Africana Studies at the California State University – Long Beach. Karenga created this holiday to empower African-Americans to remember their roots. The holiday has been celebrated every single year since 1966.

Wondering how the word “Kwanzaa” came to be? Well, the name was derived from a Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” meaning “first fruits.” It is based on a number of traditional harvest festivals in Africa, combining different customs from various communities. Each of the 7 days represents a principle (nguzo saba , with each one of them having a specific symbol. The colors used (Pan-African flag) are green, black and red, symbolizing earth and future, color of the people, and African blood respectively.

Here’s a quick break down of these seven principles:

  • Day 1 – “Umoja” means “unity”
  • Day 2 – “Kujichagulia” means “self-determination”
  • Day 3 – “Ujima” means “collective work and responsibility”
  • Day 4 – “Ujamaa” means “cooperative economics”
  • Day 5 – “Nia” means “purpose”
  • Day 6 – “Kuumba” means “creativity”
  • Day 7 – “Imani” means “Faith”

Now that you know what Kwanzaa is all about, let’s now proceed to the celebrations and how to do it best!

Decorate your Home with the Various Kwanzaa Symbols

Take this opportunity to decorate your home with the Kwanzaa colors. I suggest that you get a green tablecloth and put it over a table centrally located in your living room, and then place a woven mat (mkeka) on top. You can then get some colorful fruits and put them on a bowl on top of the mat to represent the community’s productivity.

Add Some Kwanzaa Flags or Posters

Get your sheets of paper and markers ready and make yourself a flag, or purchase one, ensuring that tit has the three colors of the Pan-African flag (bendera). You can then hang it anywhere in your rooms during the 7-day festival. Here’s a video to help you make one – it’s fun, especially if you have kids around.

Practice some Kwanzaa greetings

Have you been wishing to learn some foreign language? Well, here’s an opportunity to learn some Swahili words. To make a point during the Kwanzaa holiday, greet people using Swahili words such as “habari gani.” If someone greets you, instead or replying the normal way “nzuri sana” just say “Nguzo saba”.

Light Candles (Kinara) Every Day

Kinara is 7-candle lighting (a black one at the center, three green ones on the right and three red ones on the left), each representing a principle. You are supposed to light each, one day at a time in a specific order. You start with the black one then followed by the others. You can start from the far left (red candle) and finish with the far right (green candle).

Have a Feast (Karamu) on the New Year’s Eve (Sixth Day)

This one of the most special days of the festival as it brings people together to celebrate the African heritage and well, lots of foods are involved. This is where your cooking instincts kick in. Although anything can go into the plates, it’s best that you learn about making some African dishes (if you don’t know yet) for the festival. Here’s something to remember, though – the setting has to be on point! You have to decorate the place in the three colors I talked about and have large mats (mikeka) at the center. And before you guys take the first bite (and after the last one), conduct some entertaining and informative programs to make the day memorable.

Check out some nice Kwanzaa recipes on Food Network and wow your guests!

And to make it even more enticing, give out gifts to your family members and friends, especially on the last day of the festival. Art and supplies and other crafts would be nice options.

There you have it! Celebrate Kwanzaa in a special way by considering these tips. Make some good food and remember to learn some African phrases.

No matter what holiday you are celebrating, for a wide range of products related to the festive season, make sure you check out TopProducts. From decorations, to dinnerware, to wine glass sets, we have plenty of reviews and buying guides to help you get that product you want. Happy Kwanzaa, folks!

James N Wambui, TopProducts Staff Writer