Cultural Holiday of Kwanzaa Begins Today

By: Emily Crider Email
By: Emily Crider Email

Today marks the first day of Kwanzaa, a secular holiday that celebrates the African American and Pan-American cultures.

Kwanzaa has its roots in the ancient African first-fruit harvest celebrations from which it takes its name. However, its modern history begins in 1966 when it was developed by African American scholar and activist Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University.

Kwanzaa revolves around the Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles) of unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. A central practice is the lighting of the mishumaa (seven candles) of Kwanzaa. A candle is lit each day for each of the Nguzo Saba.

The name "Kwanzaa" comes from the Swahili phrase, "matunda ya kwanza," which means “first fruits." It is celebrated through rituals, dialogue, narratives, poetry, dancing, singing, drumming and other music, as well as feasting.

Kwanzaa is celebrated December 26 through January 1st. The last day is set apart as a Day of Meditation or Day of Assessment on which celebrants raise and answer questions of cultural and moral grounding and consider their worthiness in family, community, and culture.


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