Celebrating Kwanzaa This Year? Here’s What You Need to Know

·4-min read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Here's something you might not know: Even though it's drenched in deeply rich traditions, Kwanzaa has only actually been around since 1966. I know, I was surprised too!

During the Civil Rights Movement, Kwanzaa founder Maulana Karenga, PhD, professor and chairman of Black studies at California State University, Long Beach, was determined to find a way to bring the African American community together to persevere through hardship. Thus, the weeklong cultural celebration highlighting family, friends, and community, was born.

Despite its relatively new history, Kwanzaa is observed by millions of Black Americans in the United States and spans from December 26 through January 1. Each day of the week represents one of the seven core principles of the holiday:

  1. Umoja (unity)

  2. Kujichagulia (self-determination)

  3. Ujima (collective work and responsibility)

  4. Ujamaa (cooperative economics)

  5. Nia (purpose)

  6. Kuumba (creativity)

  7. Imani (faith)

“[They’re] meant to be a guiding force for Americans of African descent,” says Kofi Hunter, co-founder of New York’s Kwanzaa Fest BK. “The principles, or the Nguzo Sabo, are specifically designed to lead us in our journey toward liberation.”

Even if you weren’t super familiar with the core principles until just now, you'll probs recognize the lighting of the kinara. There are seven candlesticks representing the principles that are lit on each day of observance. Plus, who doesn’t love soft candlelight on a cold night?

If you’ve never celebrated the holiday before (or you have but want to learn even more), you’ve come to the right place. Here are a few ways you can celebrate Kwanzaa.

1. Get crafty

One core tenet of Kwanzaa is giving gifts to loved ones, but why not get all DIY with it? “You give handmade gifts, really personal gifts, something that you can make,” Hunter says. “That’s really more in line with tradition.” Maybe try out a homemade candle or some cute jewelry! I know your gift-giving skills have grown beyond a mixtape and a card.

2. Decorate

TBH, there’s no better way to get into the holiday spirit than decking out your home for the festivities? The classic Kwanzaa setup is a mkeka (a woven mat) with an ear of corn, fruits, and, of course, the kinara.

The ear of corn represents fertility and hope for the future through children, while the fruits are meant to symbolize both joy and the fruitful results of collective hard work. To top it off, add a unity cup to signify community. On the sixth day, the cup is filled with water, wine, or juice, and every family member takes a sip in remembrance of their ancestors and to symbolize togetherness.

3. Chef it up

Don’t even front. We all know that the best part of basically any holiday is the food, and you’re lying if you say otherwise. Kwanzaa is the perfect time to honor the many different cultures of the African diaspora through their customary dishes. Man, does a lot of this food hit the spot. You could whip up some jerk chicken, jollof rice, black-eyed peas, or any of the countless traditional recipes from around the world and just die of happiness and a full belly.

4. Keep an eye out for local celebrations

Typically, organizations across the country host Kwanzaa events stacked with special speakers, live music, and Black art on display. But, again, this year’s celebrations are going to be a little bit more virtual. Thank god we’ve all grown very accustomed to at-home gatherings and watch parties by now. Festivals like Kwanzaa Fest BK are heading to Instagram Live to present their lineups, so keep an eye out for virtual showcases—all from the comfort of your own home.

5. Buy Black

An extremely relevant element of Kwanzaa is the focus on cooperative economics, and that means supporting Black businesses. Oh, look! There are plenty of resources out there for you to buy Black and to keep buying from Black-owned businesses.

6. Take a step back

As with any holiday, it’s always good to take a step back and remember what Kwanzaa is all about. “There has to be some kind of moment of introspection, thinking about our ancestors and the descendants of enslaved African people globally,” Hunter says. “I think the most important thing about Kwanzaa is contemplation.”

Remember, as a cultural holiday, Kwanzaa isn’t tied to any particular faith. Every family celebrates Kwanzaa differently, so celebrate the holiday with your family and honor your African heritage however you choose to this year. Because honestly, the past two years have been messy so create your own traditions.

7. Watch something informative

I mean, who doesn't love a movie night? Sometime throughout the week, take time to sit down with your loved ones and check out a bit of relevant, educational content! There are tons of cool documentaries out there that embrace Kwanzaa's core tenants and will get you right in the holiday spirit.

8. Pay it forward

Ujamaa, aka cooperative economics, can also include supporting Black charities. Look into organizations that fund important Black causes, like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Loveland Foundation.

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