An in-depth look into the reflective holiday of Kwanzaa


Kwanzaa emphasizes seven key principles, dedicating a day to each one, The holiday’s non religious affliction allows families and communities to come together and enjoy time together.

Sydney Kass, Features Editor

December is filled with holidays: Chanukah, New Years, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. While many Schreiber students are rather familiar with the first three, it seems that most have hardly any knowledge of Kwanzaa.  That is, until now.  

Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 in the aftermath of the fatal Watt riots.  Karanga had hopes of empowering and uniting African Americans by reconnecting them to their African roots. 

Since its creation, Kwanza has been celebrated every year between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1.  The holiday is modeled after traditional African harvest festivals, like that of seven-day Umkhost of Zululand.  This is why the name “Kwanzaa” stems from the Swahili word “kwanza,” which means “first-fruits.”

Kwanzaa is a reflective, cultural, and secular holiday, so it’s not affiliated with any specific religion.  Therefore, a person of any religion technically could celebrate it.  

Since the common length of traditional African festivals is seven days, Kwanzaa is founded upon seven principles: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith).  There is one principle celebrated each day.  

A typical Kwanzaa celebration consists of seven symbols: crops, candle holders, corn, seven candles, unity cups, and gifts.  The crops symbolize the rewards for productive and collective labor, as well as African harvest celebrations. 

The mat represents tradition and history.  In addition, the candle holder is symbolic of African roots, as the holder is literally the root of the candles.  Meanwhile, the seven candles are representative of the previously mentioned seven principles.  Furthermore, the cap symbolizes unity, while the gifts represent the love of parents and promises made and kept by their children.

“Kwanzaa is more of a holiday to appreciate friends and family than to give and get gifts,” said senior Janiya Johnson.

So, this year, when you’re spreading your holiday cheer, keep Kwanzaa in your thoughts and wish a happy holidays to all who observe this cultural celebration.