Five Things You Need to Know About Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is celebrated in the United States from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Get the facts behind the modern-day holiday with this Kwanzaa history.

The seven-day festival of Kwanzaa, which celebrates African-American heritage and culture, starts Wednesday, Dec. 26, and ends Tuesday, Jan. 1. Here are five things you should know about the weeklong holiday:

1. Origin of the holiday: Kwanzaa originated because of one California man’s determination to turn the violence of the Watts Riots in 1965 into something positive. After the deadly six-day riots, which stemmed from racial unrest in Los Angeles, Maulana Karenga decided to create a holiday that would unite African Americans as a community. Karenga, professor and chairman of black studies at California State University, Long Beach, called Kwanzaa’s creation “an audacious act of self-determination.” 

2. Kwanzaa’s meaning: Kwanzaa comes from comes the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means “first fruits.” Karenga drew from several traditional African fruit harvest traditions to create Kwanzaa.

3. Principles and symbols of Kwanzaa: Each day of Kwanzaa has a theme and a corresponding symbol. In order, the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

There are also seven symbols of the holiday, all drawn from African cultures. They are: mazao, the crops; mkeka, place mat; vibunzi, ear of corn; mishumaa saba, the seven candles; kinara, the candleholder; kikombe cha umoja, the unity cup; and zawadi, gifts.

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.

4. Kwanzaa’s goal: The focus on traditional African cultures is central to Karenga’s goal with Kwanzaa. Karenga, now 71, had earlier co-founded the black nationalist group, US. He based Kwanzaa on the theory of Kawaida, which espouses that social revolutionary change for black America can be achieved by exposing blacks to their cultural heritage.

5. Kwanzaa’s reach: 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.



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