Kwanzaa candles are one of the most important symbols in this 20th century non-religious celebration. In fact, the candles are considered by many to be the official symbol of the holiday. The seven candles are lighted in a specific sequence each night of the seven-day holiday. By lighting the seven candles, Kwanzaa participants remember the principles of the holiday and take time to observe their special meaning.
The Meaning of Each Candle
Kwanzaa candles are called the Mishumaa Saba, which is Swahili for seven candles. The candles are representative of the sun's power. They are held in a candle holder called the Kinara. The Kinara and Mishumaa Saba are two of the seven symbols of Kwanzaa. The other five are crops (Mazao), the mat (Mkeka), ears of corn (Muhindi), gifts (Zawadi) and the unity cup (Kikombe Cha Umoja).
In the Kinara, there is one black candle, three red candles and three green candles. The black candle represents the people, the red candles represent the struggles and the green candles represent hope for the future. The candles are arranged in the Kinara with the black in the middle, the red to the left and the green to the right.
The Order of Candle Lighting
On the first night of Kwanzaa, December 26th, the black candle is lit at a specific point in the evening's celebration. It is normally done after drumming or music and a reading. The first candle represents Umoja (unity). This is the first principle of Kwanzaa.
On the second night, the candle on the far left is lit and it represents Kujichagulia (self-determination). After lighting the red candle, the black candle is lit. Each night the new candle is lit and is followed by the lighting of the previously lit candles to reaffirm the previous lessons.
The next night, the second candle from the left is lit. It is a representation of Ujamaa (cooperative economics). The candles for Umoja and Kujichagulia are also lit afterward. Next comes the lighting of the last red candle, Kuumba (creativity). This candle is joined by the previous three.
The following three nights the green candles are lit from the one closest to the center outward. The principles represented by these candles are Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Nia (purpose) and Imani (faith).
The order of the candle lighting is significant. By lighting the black candle first, those who celebrate Kwanzaa are representing that their people come first, then the struggle (the red candles) and then the hope that comes from the struggle (the green candles).
Folks are always asking me about Kwanzaa, so here are a few thoughts for each day of this winter holiday.
As Kwanzaa become more popular, a debate arose as to whether or not people can truly embrace both Kwanzaa and Christmas. While the correct answer lies within the heart and mind of the individual, it's worth taking a look at the arguments surrounding the controversy.
For the seven nights from December 26th to the 31st, the Kwanzaa celebration commemorates African roots, honors the ancestors and looks to the future in the spirit of unity, dignity and hope.