The Thought of the Week

View of a sunset with dramatic clouds



The Kwanzaa Celebration

Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday from Christmas to New Years. The name is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Celebrations often include songs, storytelling, and a large traditional meal. On each of seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder), then one of the seven principles is discussed. 

The Seven Principles: Nguzo Saba

Principle # 1: Unity: Umoja
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, and nation.

Principle # 2: Self-determination: Kujichagulia
To define ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

Principle # 3: Collective Work and Responsibility: Ujima
To build and maintain our community together.

Principle # 4: Cooperative Economics: Ujamaa
To build and maintain our own businesses, and to profit from them together.

Principle # 5: Purpose: Nia
To make our collective vocation the developing of our community in order to achieve our greatness.

Principle # 6: Creativity: Kuumba
To leave our community more beautiful than we inherited it.

Principle # 7: Faith: Imani
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, and all our leaders.

The Seven Symbols: 

Mazao, The Crops: Symbol #1 symbolizes the gathering of the people that is patterned after African harvest festivals in which joy, sharing, unity, and thanksgiving are the fruits of collective planning and work. The farmers sowed seeds that brought forth new plant life to feed the people. To demonstrate their mazao, celebrants of Kwanzaa place nuts, fruits, and vegetables, representing work, on the mkeka.

Mkeka, Place Mat: Symbol #2 symbolizes the role we play as a legacy to the future. Today, we use mkeka that are made from Kente cloth— an African cloth from the African continent. The nuts, fruits, and vegetables are placed directly on the mkeka.

Vibunzi, Ear of Corn: Symbol #3 symbolizes life through the reproduction of children; the future hopes of the family. It takes a whole village to raise a child. We remember to take the love and nurturing that was heaped on us as children and selflessly return it to children. Children are the future, the seed bearers that will carry cultural values and practices into the next generation.

Mishumaa Saba, The Seven Candles: Symbol #4 is the ceremonial candles with two primary purposes: to re-create symbolically the sun’s power and to provide light. The seven candles are: three red, three green and one black. During Kwanzaa, a candle, representing one principle, is lit each day. Then the previously lit candles are relighted.

Kinara, The Candleholder: Symbol #5 symbolizes the kinara; the symbol of the ancestors. They were once earthbound and fully understand human life.

Kikombe Cha Umoja, The Unity Cup: Symbol #6 symbolizes the kikombe cha umoja is a special cup that is used to perform the libation ritual during the Karamu feast on the sixth day of Kwanzaa. During the Karamu feast, the kikombe cha umoja is passed to family member and guests, who sip from it to promote unity. After asking for a blessing, an elder pours the libation on the ground and the group says “Amen.”

Zawadi, Gifts: Symbol #7 symbolizes when we exchange gifts with members of our immediate family, especially the children.

From the Official Kwanzaa Website.