The holiday of Kwanzaa is centered around family and community, beautiful symbolisms and customs, and consists of vibrant colors that bring life to the cultural celebration. From festive feasts and candle lighting to common greetings in English and Swahilli, there is a lot to learn about the joyous holiday of Kwanzaa. So buckle up, because today you’re learning everything there is to know about Kwanzaa!
History of Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa was established in 1966 in the U.S by Dr. Maulana Karenga. He was a professor of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, and created the observance of Kwanzaa as a way to bring the African-American community together.
Karenga combined aspects of several different African harvest celebrations to create Kwanzaa. He found that the basic principles in producing harvests are essential to building strong communities. He thus established the seven principles, the basis of Kwanzaa. They are reflective of strengthening and unifying the African-American community.
The Celebration of Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday observed from December 26th to January 1st and is celebrated by African-Americans and the African community all over the world. Kwanzaa is not considered a religious holiday, but a cultural one that can be simultaneously celebrated with other religious holidays such as Christmas or Hanukkah. Although families can observe Kwanzaa each in their own way, the celebrations often include singing and dancing, storytelling and poetry reading, African drums, gift-giving, and a big traditional feast.
On each of the seven nights, a candle is lit on the Kinara (candleholder), and one of the seven principles (Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa is discussed. There are also seven symbols in Kwanzaa, each representing values and traditions reflective of African heritage. On the final Kwanzaa night of December 31, an African feast (Karamu) is enjoyed by family and friends.
The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa
The seven principles (or Nguzo Saba) are based on the ideals of first-fruit harvests. They are at the heart of Kwanzaa, representing the values of family, community, and African culture.
Umoja means unity. It represents building and maintaining strong relationships between the family and the community.
This means self-determination and being able to define, create, and speak for yourself.
Ujima means collective work and responsibility. It promotes the well-being of the community as one.
This represents cooperative economics, meaning to build businesses within the community in order to further the economic prosperity of the community.
Nia means purpose. It promotes the collective goals and development of the community rather than on an individual level.
Kuumba means creativity and the constant improvement of your community to leave it more beautiful and beneficial than you inherited it.
Imani means faith. It is based on faith in yourself and your community and that a better world will be created now and in the future.
The Seven Symbols of Kwanzaa
The seven symbols of Kwanzaa each represent the values and concepts of African culture. The symbols reflect the building and reinforcement of the African community as a whole.
Mazao means crops, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. It represents the traditional African harvest celebration that Kwanzaa is based on.
Mkeka is the mat on which all seven Kwanzaa symbols are arranged. It is usually made of straw, African fabric, or paper and symbolizes the history and foundation of African traditions.
This symbol means the stalk of corn which represents fertility and the concept of children carrying out future hopes of families. One vibunzi is placed on the mkeka for each child present. If no children are present, two ears are still placed on the mkeka for the children in the community.
- Mishumaa Saba
This symbolizes the seven candles that represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa. The candles are red, green, and black to represent the African people and their struggles. A different candle is lit each day and a principle is discussed.
This is the candleholder, which holds the seven candles. It represents stalks of corn from which African ancestors came. The Kinara symbolizes the human family that is created.
- Kikombe Cha Umoja
This symbolizes “the unity cup” which is the first principle of Kwanzaa (Umoja.) On the sixth day of Kwanzaa, there is a ritual to drink from this cup to honor African ancestors. Before drinking, each person says “harambee,” meaning “let’s pull together.”
This symbol represents gifts to children from their parents. On the last day of Kwanzaa, January 1, handmade or educational gifts are handed out to children. Gifts can include books, art, or cultural items.
Fasting is often done during Kwanzaa as a symbolism of cleansing the mind, soul, and spirit. On the final evening of Kwanzaa, December 31, participants will enjoy the Karumu, a feast with food, drinks, music, and dance. Zawadi (handmade or educational gifts) are given to children and can be opened at the Karumu or on the Imani (final day of Kwanzaa.)
There is also a candle lighting ceremony during the celebration when all family members are present. The ceremony begins with the Tambiko (or libation), an African custom that pays homage to personal and collective ancestors. Let’s dive a little deeper into the candle lighting ceremony.
Candle Lighting Ceremony
First, the elder of the household pours wine, juice, or distilled spirits from the Kikombe Cha Umoja (or unity cup) into the earth or an earth-filled container. During this process, the elder makes a statement for family members and friends who are no longer with them as a means to honor and remember them. The elder drinks from the Kikombe Cha Umoja and passes it to family and friends to share as well.
The elder says “Harambee”, meaning “let’s pull together” and everyone joins in and repeats the phrase seven times. The mishumaa saba (or candles) are placed on the kinara (candleholder) in the following order: Three red candles placed on the left, one black candle placed in the middle, and three green candles placed to the right. Beginning December 26, the first night of Kwanzaa, the black mishumaa is lit. A different candle is lit each day, alternating from left to right, and the principle of the day is discussed thereafter.
The name Kwanzaa originates from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” meaning “first fruits of the harvest.” The “first fruit” harvest celebrations of African civilizations were based on five main activities: ingathering, recommitment, commemoration, reverence, and celebration, all of which are the central focus of the Kwanzaa celebration.
During the week of Kwanzaa, the customary greeting to family and friends is “Habari gani,” a Swahili phrase meaning “What is the news?” The response is one of the seven principles, depending on which day of Kwanzaa it is. For example, Umoja is the response given on December 26th.
Sure, you can also say “Happy Kwanzaa!” But, imagine really impressing your friends and family with your Swahili skills! So, how do you say happy Kwanzaa in Swahili? It translates to “Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri!”
When creating Kwanzaa cards, you can include phrases relating to any of the common themes and principles of the holiday, including family, community, purpose, and faith. You can add your own personalized touch to your Kwanzaa greeting cards. Take a look at these Kwanzaa sayings you can use in your next holiday card:
- May this Kwanzaa bring you peace and prosperity.
- May all the Kwanzaa blessings be shared around your table.
- Celebrating peace, love, happiness, and prosperity this Kwanzaa
- Wishing you warmth and unity among family and friends.
- Hope your Kwanzaa is celebrated with joy and proud heritage.
- Wishing this Kwanzaa surrounds you with community and blessings.
- Let the celebration of Kwanzaa spread and bring light to your family.
- Celebrating family, community, and our proud heritage this Kwanzaa.
- Blessings to you on each of the seven days of Kwanzaa.
- Let’s lift our community and rejoice in our blessings this Kwanzaa.
- Take pride in each other and celebrate our achievements.
Kwanzaa Colors and Decorations
Red, black, and green are the official colors of Kwanzaa. Red represents the blood that is shed in the struggle for freedom. Black represents the people of African descent. Green represents the rich land of Africa.
In addition to the colorful candles, many celebrate Kwanzaa by dressing up or decorating their homes with colorful African art, fruits, and kente (African cloth.) Many women also dress in kaftans, which are colorful, draped garments often worn in Africa. Other decorations include African baskets, tribal masks, crops, and African textiles that are displayed throughout the home.
Now that you’ve learned the common Kwanzaa sayings in both English and Swahili, let’s dive into how to use them in your next Kwanzaa card.
Open the PicsArt app, follow these easy instructions:
- Tap on the plus sign at the bottom of your screen.
- Upload an image or select a background. If you’re not sure where to start, simply choose a solid background such as black.
- Tap on the Text icon at the bottom of your screen and type your text, such as “Happy Kwanzaa.”
- Select a font. We suggest going for bold or block-letter typefaces such as Kairos Sans W1G, Blackboton Std-Bold, Nina Bold, or Jambalaya Itc Std.
- Edit the text using Color, Opacity, Spacing, and any other tool along the bottom.
- Place your text anywhere on your image and click Apply on the top right.
- Click Add Photo and search “Kwanzaa” in Picsart’s image library. You’ll find some great images you can paste into your design.
- Click the Sticker icon and search “Kwanzaa” or “Africa” for themed stickers.
- Select the sticker(s) you like and place them on your design. Remember to click Apply on the top right to save all edits.
- Add special effects to your card with the Effects and Mask tools.
- Download or post your Kwanzaa design!
If you’re using PicsArt’s Desktop editor instead, follow this step-by-step guide on how to create a Kwanzaa greeting card online.
- Open PicsArt’s Text Editor.
- Select any free image or upload or own using the top left Upload button. You can search “Kwanzaa.”
- Click on Add a heading, Add a subheading, or Add a body text. Then type in your text and move the text box to the desired area on your image. You can also adjust the text box size by clicking and diagonally dragging the corners of the textbox.
- Click on Font above the image and you’ll see a dropdown of typefaces you can choose from. You can also adjust for size, letter spacing, line height, alignment, caps, and the options to make your text bold, italic, or underlined.
- Next to Font, you’ll find Color, Outline, and Shadow. Click into each of these editing tools and adjust your font accordingly.
- Click the Sticker icon and add any Kwanzaa stickers.
- You can always add special effects with the Effects tool on the left.
- Click Download at the top right or Share.
PicsArt all-in-one Photo and Video Editor, Collage, and Sticker Maker is the world’s largest creative platform with over 150 million monthly active creators and influencers. PicsArt has collaborated with major artists and brands like Taylor Swift, The Jonas Brothers, Gwen Stefani, Maroon 5, Lizzo, Meghan Trainor, One Direction, MONSTA X, Warner Bros. Entertainment, iHeartMedia, Condé Nast, and more. Download the app today to level-up your photos and videos with thousands of quick & easy editing tools, trendy filters, fun stickers, and brilliant backgrounds. Unleash your creativity with PicsArt and upgrade to Gold for awesome premium perks!