peer tutoring, for free.
Free SAT® Prep, as part of a research study.
SAT® Bootcamps
Free SAT® Prep, as part of a research study.
A global network of volunteers.
Explore Tutors
A global network of volunteers.



A Brief Summary of Kwanzaa

By Ari H on July 3, 2024

Blog image
Though the week of Kwanzaa has long passed, it is an often overlooked and misunderstood holiday. In this article, I’ll explain its history and celebration.

Kwanzaa is a Pan-African holiday that traces back to traditional African harvest celebrations. The name derives from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” meaning first fruits. It was created in 1966 by Maulana Ron Karenga, a professor, author, and activist, and is a celebration of Black culture, history, heritage, values, and communities. Karenga founded the holiday during the Civil Rights Movement for African Americans to reconnect with their heritage.

Kwanzaa is an immensely symbolic holiday, and the most prominent symbolic items are on a table around which a family gathers each night. The candle holder is called the Kinara and was originally a menorah with an arm removed. Under the kinara is a mat called a Mkeka, adorned with Muhindi (corn to represent the children in a household), Mazao (fruit to represent the harvest), and Zawadi (gifts). The table or other decor may feature colors or imagery of the Pan-African flag, called the bendera, whose colors symbolize different facets of black history and culture. The red is the blood or struggle of our ancestors, the black is the skin or people, and the green is the future or land upon which we reside.

The Pan-African Flag: 3 horizontal stripes, colored (from top to bottom) red, black, and green

Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26th to January 1st every year, and the seven days of the holiday have corresponding principles that are expressed and celebrated, called the Nguzo Saba. It is traditional to greet people in Swahili during Kwanzaa with the phrase “Habari gani?” and respond with the principle of each day. Furthermore, for each day/principle, a candle is lit on the Kinara.

Here are the Nguzo Saba:

December 26 - Umoja

Umojia is Swahili for unity. The focus of this day is to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race. To start the holiday, families often deliberately spend this day together.

December 27 - Kujichagulia

Kujichagulia is Swahili for self-determination. The focus of this day is to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

December 28 - Ujima

Ujima is Swahili for collective work and responsibility. The focus of this day is to build and maintain our community together as well as make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and solve them together. Families often take this day to work towards a common goal, such as cleaning the house.

December 29 - Ujamaa

Ujamaa is Swahili for cooperative economics. The focus of this day is to build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together. Many people use this day to support black-owned and black-operated businesses through purchases, donations, or word-of-mouth.

December 30 - Nia

Nia is Swahili for purpose. The focus of this day is to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

December 31 - Kuumba

Kuumba is Swahili for creativity. The focus of this day is to always do as much as we can in the way we can and to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. Families often take art classes, write or read poetry, or attend/participate in other artistic activities.

January 1 - Imani

Imani is Swahili for faith. The focus of this day is to believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle. Since it is the last day of the holiday, those who celebrate often host a gathering/feast called a Karamu to conclude their observations and festivities. Though the holiday is a weeklong feast, the Karamu is often an opportunity to open the celebration to friends and extended family. I’ve gone to one annually for the last two years!

For more information, you can visit the official Kwanzaa website, an essential source for this article. Other sources included this ThoughtCo article titled "Kwanzaa: 7 Principles to Honor African Heritage", this one from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and personal experiences.

Thank you to Maya B for editing this article!

Sources: peer tutoring, for free.


About UsPartnershipsRoadmapCareersDonate


Terms & ConditionsPrivacy PolicyTrust & SafetyPress