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KwanzaaKwanzaa arrives this week.  Christmas is upon us and that means Kwanzaa is right behind,  It begins the day after Christmas and lasts 1 week.  You might ask “What is Kwanza?”  Here is the answer;

What is Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday.  It is an African American cultural festival which was created in the United States by Professor Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga in 1966.  It comes from the black nationalist and black power movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Professor Karenga was intimately involved in both as a major leading figure.  He created Kwanzaa because he wanted African Americans to connect with their cultural heritage.

The word originates from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” or first fruits.  Professor Karenga used Swahili because Swahili is the most widely spoken African language. First fruits come from the first harvest.  These celebrations go back thousands of years in Africa.  As a result, this speaks to his goal of uniting the community through their African heritage.  Kwanzaa expands every year and is celebrated in countries around the world.


The Celebration

Kwanzaa is spelled with 7 letters because it has 7 principles or Nguzo Saba.  Since each day is focused on 1 of the 7 principles, it lasts 1 week.  A candle is lit each day and on the 7th gifts are exchanged.  The Kinara is the candle holder and it’s placed on a mat called the Mkeka.  Because each candle represents a specific principle, candles are lit in a specific order.  The black candle in the center is the first one lit.  There are 3 red candles to the left and 3 green to the right.

These are the 7 principles if Kwanzaa:

  • Umoja or Unity
  • Kujichagulia or Self-Determination
  • Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility
  • Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics
  • Nia or Purpose
  • Kuumba or Creativity
  • Imani or Faith

KwanzaaKwanza’s Meaning

Kwanzaa is a celebration of life principles as well as a gathering of the African community.  It is filled with symbolism.  This is why a bowl of fruit (Mazao), ears of corn (Muhindi) and a unity cup (Kikombe cha Umoja) are also placed around the Kinara.

You have a feast on the 6th day and people exchange gifts on the 7th day to end this holiday.  African themed decorations, music and dress should be part of the celebration too.  This is a time for people of African descent to come together as a community, commemorate the heritage of their ancestors and re-affirm the special life principles that make up their African culture.

Bergen County is highly diverse.  Because we are, life here is wonderfully entwined with a large variety of cultures, backgrounds and religions.  This is why I say we have something for everyone.  The African American community is part of our fabric of life.  If you know someone who is celebrating Kwanzaa great them with Have a Joyous Kwanzaa!





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