What is Kwanzaa and how is it celebrated?

Kwanzaa runs from Dec. 26-Jan. 1 each year

File photo: SAAACAM celebrates Kwanzaa

SAN ANTONIO – On the day after Christmas each year, another holiday begins — Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa isn’t a religious holiday but a celebration of African-American culture and heritage. It’s a time for reflection and connection.

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The holiday was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor and activist. It became more popular in the 1980s and 1990s. President Bill Clinton was the first U.S. president to officially recognize Kwanzaa.

According to the National Museum of African American History & Culture, the ideas and concepts are expressed in the Swahili language.

The word Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” which means first fruits, referring to harvest festivals celebrated throughout Africa.

The holiday reinforces the Nguzo Saba, or seven principles with each day focusing on one principle.

  • Umoja (Unity): To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, and nation.
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define and name ourselves, as well as create and speak for ourselves.
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together, making our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and solving them together.
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our stores, shops, and other businesses, and to profit from them together.
  • Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  • Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can in the way we can to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
  • Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

How to celebrate Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is celebrated by dedicating a place in the home for the Kwanzaa Set — a table set with African cloth and Kwanzaa symbols placed on a mat along with the Kinara, which is a candle holder. The Kinara holds seven candles with one black candle in the center, three red candles to the left and three green candles to the right. The candles symbolize the people, their struggle and hope for the future. One candle is lit each night, starting with the black candle.

Food is an important part of Kwanzaa, with families cooking traditional African meals.

On Dec. 31, the sixth day of Kwanzaa, there is a feast called Karamu. It’s a day of celebration, music, dancing and singing.

The final day focuses on looking to the future and giving homemade gifts.

SAACAM to host Kwanzaa Celebration Kujichagulia at the Witte Museum on Dec. 27

The San Antonio African American Community Archive & Museum will host a Kwanzaa celebration from 4-6 p.m. on Wednesday at the Witte Museum.

“To celebrate Kujichagulia – to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves – we will (be) inviting families to bring objects that represent your family’s past, present, or future to share a story about you + your family. The Haus of Glitter will also be holding space for a song workshop to share musical heritage from the African Diaspora and their creative practice,” the online description states.

Space is limited. People are encouraged to register online.

You can read more about Kwanzaa and how to celebrate on the Official Kwanzaa Website.

About the Author

Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 25 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.

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