What is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is celebrated in the United States from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

The seven-day festival of Kwanzaa, which celebrates African-American heritage and culture, starts Wednesday, Dec. 26 and ends Tuesday, Jan. 1. Here are some facts about the week-long holiday.

  • Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, now chair of California State University Long Beach's Department of Africana Studies, in what he called "an audacious act of self-determination."
  • The name "Kwanzaa" comes from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza," which means "first fruits."
  • Kwanzaa's focus is the "Nguzo Saba," or the Seven Principles—unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
  • During the week, a candelabrum called a Kinara is lit, and ears of corn representing each child in the family are placed on a traditional straw mat.
  • African foods such as millet, spiced pepper balls and rice are often served. Some people fast during the holiday and a feast is often held on its final night.
  • A flag with three bars—red for the struggle for freedom, black for unity, and green for the future—is sometimes displayed during the holiday.
  • Kwanzaa is based on the theory of Kawaida, which espouses that social revolutionary change for black America can be achieved by exposing blacks to their cultural heritage.
  • A poll commissioned by the National Retail Federation and conducted by BIGresearch from Oct. 4 to Oct. 11 found that 2 percent of the 8,585 adults surveyed said they would celebrate Kwanzaa, compared to 90.5 percent who celebrate Christmas and 5.4 percent who celebrate Hanukkah.

Tell Us: Do you have any facts about Kwanzaa that you would like to share? Please write them in the comments section below.

This list was compiled with information from City News Service.

Adrian December 28, 2012 at 03:49 AM
One voice, regarding the Dia de Los Muertos and other such holidays, I like to imagine that we are getting to a point where more and more of the individual characteristics of our constituent culturals are making inroads into the mainstream. Perhaps that is uncharadteristically optimistic of me, but it's better (in my mind) than seeing it as a fractionation into culturally exclusive celebrations. While Kwanza is more unilaterally targeted at a single culture when compared to other holiday traditions, I welcome the chance to revel in a diverse array of observance.
Adrian December 28, 2012 at 03:54 AM
One voice, to continue, I would like to think that these new holidays (in terms of their entrance into the American holiday lexicon) will soon join the ranks of other, culturally specific holidays and become just plain, unqualified American days of celebration. St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo, etc have their origin in small segments of the proverbial melting pot. I am happy to see that they are now welcomed into the collective, American spirit (although many see them as merely excuses to over imbibe). Maybe one day, celebrating Dia de los Muertos will be second nature.
Bret D. Rijke December 28, 2012 at 05:59 AM
@Adrian Response page 1: You wrote, “I like to imagine that we are getting to a point where more and more of the individual characteristics of our constituent culturals are making inroads into the mainstream.” I’m not attempting to split hairs or de-construct your sentiments, but there is a glaring flaw, or inconsistency with what you are wishing for and what is actually occurring. It is not so much that these other cultural holidays are assimilating into the mainstream as much as they are being forced into the mainstream, via peppy optimism and feel good editorials, while at the same time we see the still majority and long steeped Western based holidays steadily eroded and derided. It is one thing entirely different for a dominant culture to embrace and enjoin a set of distinctly differing celebratory dates of a minority population willingly. But while we “pretend” that is occurring, holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Columbus Day are vilified and exposed to a level of official intolerance that would never dare be visited upon the burgeoning holidays such as Kwanzaa, Cinco de Mayo, and others.
Bret D. Rijke December 28, 2012 at 06:00 AM
@Adrian Response page 2: So of course when this occurs, the predictable response from the still majority and host culture will be anything but enthusiastic. Sure, as you aptly pointed out, there are those who will grasp at any opportunity in which to revel and consume adult beverages at an increased rate, but in the end the “spirit” of the cultural holiday is ignored, if ever really understood. Rather than allow a minority to enjoy their respective holiday, the media, educational facilities, and government is complicit in an attempt to seek an equal footing between the holidays by the steady eradication of the former. This then, rather than reflecting the current mood and trending of the population, is only instigating resistance and agitating the majority culture. And this of course is not any way to encourage and foster natural assimilation and strengthening of any nation. Would you agree?
TVOR December 29, 2012 at 02:36 AM
I guess the thing that bothers me about Kwaanza is that it is as if it encourages people of a certain race to sort of turn a little more away from Americanism. I may well be wrong to feel that way but this "holiday" clearly focuses on non-american themes. I hope to live to see the day when all Americans are truly equal and there is no group of people who feel they are not given the same chance as others because of something like the color of their skin. The reality is that we are human beings and as such we have instincts that lead us to find differences in others. This instinct probably had an important function when humans were only a step away from wild animals. Maybe it was how natural selection ensured the survival of only the strongest of our species. In modern times, these instincts serve no purpose beyond trying to establish a social position in our society. People should be judged for their individual contributions to our species and our society, not for the failings of other members of their social group.


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