Kwanzaa was founded by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. The holiday aims to celebrate the African identity by inviting celebrators to reflect on the principles that are an integral part of being an African American and being human (Karenga).
Kwanzaa is founded around seven principles, called Nguzo Saba in Swahili (Mugane 6). These principles act as a set of values to follow in building community (Mugane 6). Kwanzaa itself has seven days, each dedicated to a different principle (Mugane 6). The principles are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith (Mugane 6). Each day is reflected on by the lighting of a candle, similar to Hanukkah (Mugane 6).
The principle of faith is present in celebrations across cultures. However, Kwanzaa uniquely applies the principle to African people themselves, rather than faith towards a religion (Karenga). Karenga explains that to practice this principle is “to believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leads and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.” Karenga’s hope is for celebrants to take the values of Kwanzaa into their lives (Karenga).
Kwanzaa diverges from more commonly practiced winter holidays, like Christmas and Hanukkah, in encouraging celebrants to reflect on their cultural past. This is why it is often celebrated in addition to these holidays, as Kwanzaa reflects a cultural celebration while Christmas and Hanukkah reflect religious ones. Kwanzaa is similar to these holidays however, in the sense that it is celebrated by bringing people together and exchanging gifts (Karenga). Kwanzaa aims to inspire the African diaspora to strive for self improvement and represents the spirit of the season through celebration and community (Mayes 228).
Community Kwanzaa. “IMG_9973.” Flickr.
Karenga, Maulana. The Official Kwanzaa Web Site - Kwanzaa African American
Celebration of Family, Community and Culture by Maulana Karenga, www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/index.shtml.
Mayes, Keith A. Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday
Tradition. Routledge, 2009.
Mugane, John M. The Story of Swahili. Ohio University Press, 2015.