The holiday celebrating African culture and heritage lasts from Dec. 26 to Jan 1.

Kwanzaa (/ˈkwɑːn.zə/) is an annual celebration of African-American culture that is held from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a communal feast called Karamu, usually held on the 6th day. It was created by Maulana Karenga, based on African harvest festival traditions from various parts of Africa, including West and Southeast Africa. Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966.

Dec. 26 marks the beginning of Kwanzaa, the seven-night celebration of African American and Pan-African culture. The holiday has grown to be celebrated by millions across the world, strengthening roots to both African heritage and the African community as a whole.

How is Kwanzaa celebrated?

Each night, families light the Kinara while discussing one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa, called the Nguzo Saba. There are also seven symbols that are utilized each night of Kwanzaa.

An African feast known as Karamu also takes place on New Year's Eve according to Parents also give children gifts during the holiday, which are encouraged to be educational in nature and promote African heritage.

What are the seven symbols of Kwanzaa?

The seven symbols of Kwanzaa are the Kinara (candleholder), Mishumaa Saba (seven candles), Mkeka (the mat) Mazao (crops), Muhindi (ears of corn), Kikombe Cha Umoja (unity cup) and Zawadi (gifts). The mat is laid out at the beginning of the holiday on a table in a central location in the home. Then the candle holder is set up on the mat along with the crops, corn, and unity cup.

Who can celebrate Kwanzaa?

While the holiday honors both African American and Pan-African culture, anyone is welcome to celebrate Kwanzaa. Additionally, because Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday in nature, it can be celebrated alongside other major religious and secular holidays.


December 28, 2020 at 12:12 AM

By: john whitfield


New York Today: A Kwanzaa Tradition on a Harlem Stage

Members of Forces of Nature rehearse for their upcoming Kwanzaa celebration performance

Members of Forces of Nature rehearse for their upcoming Kwanzaa celebration

By Luis Ferré-Sadurní

December 26

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, a weeklong holiday that celebrates the values of African heritage in African-American culture. And for the last 36 years, Forces of Nature, a critically acclaimed dance group, has produced an end-of-year Kwanzaa show in New York City.

We visited a rehearsal to find out how the group incorporates the holiday’s message into the show, “Regeneration Night,” which they will perform at the Apollo Theater in Harlem on Dec. 30.

On an otherwise quiet evening last week, while some New Yorkers burned Hanukkah candles and others were preparing for Christmas, a deft beat of African drums roared from within St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Harlem. In a spartan dance studio inside the church, about a dozen male and female dancers gathered.

Rehearsals began with the usual call for attention, borrowed from West Africa. One of the female dancers called out: “Ago,” or “Listen.” The rest of the group quieted down and replied in unison: “Ame,” or “We’re listening.”

The dancers are led by Abdel Salaam, 67, the founder of the group and a veteran dancer who also directs Dance Africa, billed as the nation’s largest festival of African dance.

“Artists build upon the past they inherit,” Mr. Salaam said. “They try to apply it in the now, with the hope of establishing a vision that will carry into the future. Kwanzaa is all about legacy.”

For a holiday that commemorates identity, “Regeneration Night” is meant to empower viewers by appropriating African heritage and making it contemporary, Mr. Salaam said. The show includes traditional drum calls, rituals and libations alongside hip-hop beats and a performance by Les Nubians, a celebrated French musical duo with roots in Chad.

The group’s two-hour performance also aims to imbue Kwanzaa’s “nguzo saba,” or the seven principles of African heritage: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

In the show, the principle of unity connects generations: High-school students from Harlem dance, and community elders are honored. The principle of purpose is seen in the dance’s themes of racism, gender and social equality.

“It’ll work if people end up entertained, educated, inspired, and if it provokes a conversation,” Mr. Salaam said.

Families can celebrate Kwanzaa with five days of festive activities — including arts and crafts, story time and more — at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in Crown Heights. Times vary.

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