African American holiday celebrated from December 26 to January 1 and patterned after African harvest festivals. It was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a black-studies professor at California State University at Long Beach, as a nonreligious celebration of family and community. The name was taken from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanzaa (“first fruits”). Each day is dedicated to one of seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Each evening, family members gather to light one of the candles in the kinara, a seven-branched candelabra; often gifts are exchanged. On December 31 community members gather for a feast, the karamu. Kwanzaa is now observed by more than 15 million people.
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Kwanzaa consists of seven days of celebration, featuring activities such as candle-lighting and pouring of libations, and culminating in a feast and gift giving. It was created by Maulana Karenga and first celebrated from December 26, 1966, to January 1 1967.
Kwanzaa is a festivity that has its roots in the black nationalist movement of the 1960s, and was established as a means to help African Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage by uniting in meditation and study of "African traditions" and "common humanist principles."
Also in 1997, the first Kwanzaa stamp was issued by the United States Postal Service on October 22 at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, California. In 2004 a second Kwanzaa stamp, created by artist Daniel Minter was issued which has seven figures in colorful robes symbolizing the seven principles.
In 2004 BIGresearch conducted a marketing survey in the United States for the National Retail Foundation, which found that 1.6% of those surveyed planned to celebrate Kwanzaa. If generalized to the the US population as a whole, this would imply that around 4.7 million Americans planned to celebrate Kwanzaa in that year. In a 2006 speech, Karenga asserted that 28 million people celebrate Kwanzaa. He has always maintained it is celebrated all over the world. Lee D. Baker puts the number at 12 million.
A Kwanzaa ceremony may include drumming and musical selections, libations, a reading of the "African Pledge" and the Principles of Blackness, reflection on the Pan-African colors, a discussion of the African principle of the day or a chapter in African history, a candle-lighting ritual, artistic performance, and, finally, a feast (Karamu). The greeting for each day of Kwanzaa is "Habari Gani",which is Swahili for "What's the News?".
At first, observers of Kwanzaa eschewed the mixing of the holiday or its symbols, values and practice with other holidays. They felt that doing so would violate the principle of kujichagulia (self-determination) and thus violate the integrity of the holiday, which is partially intended as a reclamation of important African values. Today, many African-American families celebrate Kwanzaa along with Christmas and New Year's. Frequently, both Christmas trees and kinaras, the traditional candle holder symbolic of African-American roots, share space in kwanzaa celebrating households. To them, Kwanzaa is an opportunity to incorporate elements of their particular ethnic heritage into holiday observances and celebrations of Christmas.
In 1977, in Kwanzaa: origin, concepts, practice, Karenga stated, that Kwanzaa "was chosen to give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.
In 1997, Karenga changed his position, stating that while Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday, it can be celebrated by people of any race: "other people can and do celebrate it, just like other people participate in Cinco de Mayo besides Mexicans; Chinese New Year besides Chinese; Native American pow wows besides Native Americans.
Currently, according to the Official Kwanzaa Website authored by Karenga and maintained by Organization US, which Karenga chairs, "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday. And it is not an alternative to people's religion or faith but a common ground of African culture...Kwanzaa is not a reaction or substitute for anything. In fact, it offers a clear and self-conscious option, opportunity and chance to make a proactive choice, a self-affirming and positive choice as distinct from a reactive one.
Karenga's most recent interpretation emphasizes that while every people have their various holiday traditions, all people can share in the celebration of our common humanity: "Any particular message that is good for a particular people, if it is human in its content and ethical in its grounding, speaks not just to that people, it speaks to the world.