Hosting a Kwanzaa Celebration

Many African-Americans celebrate the cultural holiday of Kwanzaa, where they cultivate hope and unity as they reconnect with their African heritage and dedicate themselves to improving the world around them. Hosting a Kwanzaa celebration centers on togetherness, as well as honoring the symbols, rituals and traditions inspired by Pan-African harvest festivities.

Kwanzaa runs from December 26th through January 1st, with each of the seven days corresponding to a specific social principle. Contemplation and reflection are all part of celebrating Kwanzaa, along with gift giving and feasting. From decorations and symbols to presenting the ending feast, hosting a Kwanzaa celebration is a perfect way to connect with your family, community and ancestors.

Decorations for Kwanzaa are simple, so if you are hosting a Kwanzaa celebration you will have little trouble.

  • Choose an area in your home that is suitable for displaying the symbols of Kwanzaa. Many people select an end table or a long shelf for this honor.
  • Place the woven mat (Mkeka) in the center of the area.
  • Set out a special candleholder (the Kinara) with seven candles in it. The black candle should be in the center, with three green candles to the right of the black one and three red candles to the left. These candles represent the Seven Principles (Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa: Unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
  • Arrange traditional harvest food in a bowl, such as corn and squash. There should be one ear of corn for each child in the home, or two ears representing all children if no children are in the home.
  • Display the cup (Kikombe cha Umoja) in a prominent place on the mat.
  • Select flags, posters, banners and other African-inspired art to adorn the walls and table. Green, black and red are the chosen colors for Kwanzaa.

While there are many variations on how individuals celebrate each aspect of Kwanzaa's Seven Principles, if you are hosting a Kwanzaa celebration, you must include several important aspects of the holiday.

Lighting the Candles. Just as each day of Kwanzaa represents one of the Seven Principles, the candles in the candleholder also represent the principles. On the first day, the black candle is lit and, on each of the following days, another candle is lit on alternating sides as the others are lighted again. During this ritual, family members share their thoughts on the corresponding principle.

Giving Gifts. Kwanzaa gifts are generally just given to children, and the traditional gifts are a book and a cultural heritage item. A Kwanzaa gift should encourage children to be creative, to educate themselves and also to appreciate their background and the stories of their ancestors.

Speaking Swahili. Since Swahili is the language chosen by the founder of Kwanzaa to represent all African languages, there are many Swahili words that are a part of the holiday. If you are hosting a Kwanzaa celebration, your experience will be enriched when you use these words. For example, "Habari Gani?" means "What's the news?" and is the proper way to greet others during Kwanzaa. Also, each of the symbols bears a Swahili name, as do each of the Seven Principles.

Kwanzaa Celebration Feast
For most people, hosting a Kwanzaa celebration will most likely be on the sixth day. Traditionally that is the time when friends and family gather to enjoy a delicious African-inspired feast. They also sing, dance, share poems and read stories to one another. Everyone drinks from the Unity Cup to show that they are committed to one another.

Because the Kwanzaa holiday borrows from Pan-African harvest festivals, the food served at a Kwanzaa celebration should center on fruits, vegetables and meats that are simple, wholesome and natural. When hosting a Kwanzaa celebration, be mindful of menu items that best represent harvesttime. Some of the more popular ingredients in Kwanzaa recipes include corn, sweet potatoes and bananas.

Enhancing Your Kwanzaa Celebration
Consider making your Kwanzaa celebration a memorable event by incorporating some of the following ideas as you plan your Kwanzaa celebration:

Music. From traditional African chants to modern ethnic tunes, a variety of CDs are on the market that can set the right mood for your Kwanzaa celebration.

Crafts. Especially if there will be children present, a Kwanzaa celebration is the perfect time to do crafts. Whether it's learning traditional African crafts or simply expressing themselves creatively with a more modern project, crafts can be a fun and educational part of Kwanzaa.

Stories. Sharing inspirational stories that promote each of the Seven Principles enhances the nightly candle-lighting ceremonies. There are also children's picture books with illustrations that describe Kwanzaa celebrations and traditions.

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Kwanzaa food includes traditional East African dishes, plenty of harvest fruits and vegetables and influences from Southern cuisine that all come together in a celebration of the senses. Here are a few of the more popular Kwanzaa dishes to serve at your next feast.

Kwanzaa symbols play a significant part in this African-American cultural holiday celebrated by families from December 26 to January 1 each year. Start planning now by finding common Kwanzaa decorations that represent themes of hope, unity, harvest and African heritage.

Frequently Asked Questions on
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Kwanzaa is a holiday that happens on December 26. It originated in the 1960s along with the civil rights movement. It is a commemoration of African heritage. It is primarily celebrated in the United States, though it may be celebrated other places.

Kwanzaa is an African-American celebration of community and family. Kwanzaa begins December 26 and continues for seven days, ending on January 1. During the celebration, families spend time together in reflection, and this provides a perfect opportunity partake in Kwanzaa activities.

Kwanzaa is an educational holiday, and Kwanzaa songs are great for reinforcing the holiday's meanings. When it comes to Kwanzaa music for kids, it all depends on your preferences and the ages of the kids involved in the Kwanzaa activities.

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