Celebrating Kwanzaa

By Sebastian Graper ‘19

Staff Writer


December is upon us, and with it comes many familiar holidays such as Hanukkah and Christmas. However, there is another holiday that many people have heard of, but few fully understand: Kwanzaa.

Created by American Black Power activist Maulana Karenga in 1966, Kwanzaa is observed from December 26 to January 1, and it celebrates African American and pan-African culture. The seven basic symbols of Kwanzaa as Mazao (The Crops), Mkeka (The Mat), Kinara (The Candle Holder), Muhindi (The Corn), Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles), Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup), and Zawadi (The Gifts), along with two supplemental symbols being Bendera (The Flag) and Nguzo Saba Poster (Poster of The Seven Principles).

Three green, three red, and a single black candle are seated in a kinara, with each candle representing one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Unity, Self-determination, Collective work and responsibility, Cooperative economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith.

Each day, activities may include a discussion of that day’s principle, African history, artistic performances, and music. Many families decorate their homes with colorful cloth called kente, and women wear garments called kaftans.


On the sixth day of Kwanzaa is Karamu, the feast, when families drink from a shared cup of water, juice, or wine, and give thanks to their ancestors. On the final day, there is an exchange of traditionally handmade gifts. Author Dorothy Winbush Riley states, “We give meaningful zawadi (gifts) to encourage growth, self-determination, achievement, and success. The gift cements social relationships, allowing the receiver to share the duties and the rights of a family member.” While no public Kwanzaa festivals are planned in Kennett Square, there are many performances and celebrations held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Visit the Marketplace to shop for artisan goods or enjoy a performance by the Forces of Nature dance company during the weekend of December 14.


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