For Many Black People, Kwanzaa Is A Connection To Africa

woman in kwanzaa clothing lighting kwanzaa candles
Leslie Taylor-Grover
November 18, 2021

Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration that takes place each year from December 26th to January 1st. “Kwanzaa” means “first fruits” in Swahili, and honors the bountiful Ashanti and Zulu harvests that fed generations of Africans. 

So … what does it have to do with us?

Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 after searching for ways that our African roots could empower Black American families. He believed we needed a holiday that was culturally empowering.

Dr. Karenga was later embroiled in controversy. But the founder’s actions don’t have to erase the potential power of the holiday.

When families practice Kwanzaa, each night culminates in a candle lighting ceremony followed by a discussion of one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

On the seventh day, families exchange handmade gifts. Receiving a gift is an honor and cements the relationship between the giver and receiver. When one accepts a gift, they promise to honor their commitments to their family and practice the seven principles throughout the entire year.

Unlike Christmas, Kwanzaa is steeped in African customs, promotes intergenerational conversations, and centers on family and relationships instead of gifts. This holiday and its powerful customs could be what we need to remind us we are always connected to Africa – and to each other.

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