Kwanzaa Celebrates the Rich Cultural Heritage of African Descent in America

Family lighting candles celebrating Kwanzaa — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Kwanzaa is a time of learning, family and celebration. Reproduced from the African American Cultural Museum

During the week of Kwanzaa, families and communities come together to share a feast, to honor the ancestors, affirm the bonds between them, and to celebrate African and African American culture. Each day they light a candle to highlight the principle of that day and to breathe meaning into the principles with various activities, such as reciting the sayings or writings of great black thinkers and writers, reciting original poetry, African drumming, and sharing a meal of African diaspora-inspired foods. The table is decorated with the essential symbols of Kwanzaa, such as the Kinara (Candle Holder), Mkeka (Mat), Muhindi (corn to represent the children), Mazao (fruit to represent the harvest), and Zawadi (gifts). One might also see the colors of the Pan-African flag, red (the struggle), black (the people), and green (the future), represented throughout the space and in the clothing worn by participants. These colors were first proclaimed to be the colors for all people of the African diaspora by Marcus Garvey.

Pinback button celebrating Kwanzaa 1960 - 1999

Pinback button celebrating Kwanzaa 1960 – 1999

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

On each day of Kwanzaa, light a candle for that day’s principle on your candleholder (Kinara).

Please refer to the following suggestions as you plan activities for each day. As we are in a pandemic, we imagine you will be celebrating with immediate family this year. For more information, see the book, Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture by Maulana Karenga. (University of Sankore Press. Los Angeles. 1998)

Umoja (Unity)

To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Song for reflection: Worth His Weight in Gold (Rally Round the Flag), Steel Pulse

Thought for the Day: Morrison, Toni. Beloved. First Edition. Alfred A. Knopf,  1987.  pp. 88

Baby Suggs (holy) gives a sermon in the Clearing:

“Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh: flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pluck em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love our mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And o my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver-love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.”

Today’s Recipe: Dates, Figs & Milk


Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)

To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.

Song for reflection: I am the Black Gold of the Sun, Rotary Connection & Minnie Riperton

Thought for the day: Black, Daniel. The Coming. St. Martin’s Press, New York. 2015. pp 9-10.

“We didn’t know we wouldn’t return. We simply believed some terrible calamity had befallen us, that our Gods had let tragedy come because we had not honored them. But we were wrong. We were warriors and hunters, poets and jali, farmers and soothsayers. We were magicians and healers, artisans and thinkers, writers and dancers. We were fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, cousins and kinsmen. We were lovers. And we were home. We loved the land and it loved us. We were black like the land, and kissed by the sun. We knew our strengths and our frailties, and we knew much needed improvement. But we were home.”

Today’s Recipe: Seasoned Olives


Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)

To build and maintain our community together and make our community’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

Song for reflection: Optimistic, Sounds of Blackness

Thought for the Day: Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns. Random House, 2010. Pp. 538

“Over the decades, perhaps the wrong questions have been asked about the Great Migration. Perhaps it is not a question of whether the migrants brought good or ill to the cities they fled or were pushed or pulled to their destinations, but a question of how they summoned the courage to leave in the first place or how they found the will to press beyond the forces against them and the faith in a country that had rejected them for so long. By their actions, they did not dream the American Dream, they willed it into being by a definition of their own choosing. They did not ask to be accepted but declared themselves the Americans that perhaps few others recognized but that they had always been deep within their hearts.”

Today’s Recipe: Caribbean Sorrel


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