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How To Celebrate Kwanzaa

Learn how to commemorate Kwanzaa, the seven-day celebration of African and African-American culture that begins on December 26.


  • TIP: At the end of each of the seven days of celebration, declare, “Harambee!” (hah-RAHM-beh), meaning, “Let’s pull together!”
  • Step 1: On the sixth day, fill the unity cup with water or juice, and pour everyone a glass as part of the libation ritual.
  • Step 2: Enjoy a feast, or _karamu_, inspired by the cuisines of Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the American South. There are no specific Kwanzaa foods, so tailor your meal to your tastes.
  • Step 3: Also on the sixth day, distribute the _zawadi_ (zah-WAH-dee), the children’s gifts.
  • FACT: An American political activist created Kwanzaa in 1966 to introduce and reinforce African cultural values.
  • Step 4: On the last day of Kwanzaa, January 1, take time for quiet reflection about yourself and your community.
  • Step 5: Gather each day to light one candle and then discuss the principle of the day. The black candle is lit first; then the remaining candles are lit alternately from left to right.
  • Step 6: Beginning on December 26, greet friends and loved ones with, “Habari gani!” (hah-BAR-ee GAH-nee), which means, “What news?” in Swahili. The correct answer is the principle being celebrated that day.
  • Step 7: Be mindful of what the candles – the _mishumaa saba_ – stand for: the seven principles collectively known as Nguzo Saba (n-GU-zo SAH-bah). They are, in order of how they are celebrated, unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
  • TIP: The black candle stands for the African-American people; red represents their struggles; and green stands for their hope for the future. The straw mat symbolizes history and tradition, and the corn represents fertility and children.
  • TIP: The African words for the seven principles are _Umoja_ (oo-MOE-jah) for unity, _Kujichagulia_ (koo-jee-cha-GOO-lee-ah) for self-determination, _Ujima_ (oo-JEE-mah) for collective work and responsibility, _Ujamaa_ (oo-jah-MAH-ah) for cooperative economics, _Nia_ (Nee-ah) for purpose, _Kuumba_ (koo-OOM-bah) for creativity, and _Imani_ (ee-MAH-nee) for faith.
  • Step 8: Buy modest gifts for children taking part in the Kwanzaa celebration. Choose items that emphasize African heritage and learning.
  • Step 9: Cover a table with your African cloth; place the woven straw mat in the middle; center the candelabra on the mat, and put the unity cup next to it, along with any African art and books you wish to display. Place the black candle in the middle of the candleholder, the red candles to the left of it, and the green candles on the right.
  • Step 10: Prepare for Kwanzaa (KWAN-zuh) by gathering a candleholder called the _kinara_ (kee-NAH-rah); one black, three red, and three green candles called _mishumaa saba_ (mee-shoo-MAH-ah SAH-ba); a woven straw mat called a _mkeka_ (em-KEH-kah); several ears of corn known as _muhindi_ (moo-HEEN-dee); and a unity cup called a _kikombe cha umoja_ (kee-KOHM-bee chah oo-MOE-jah).

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