Light the Kinara

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What is Kwanzaa + how is it celebrated?

After getting caught up in the joy of gift-giving + gathering around the tree this week, it’s easy to forget that not everyone celebrates Christmas this time of year. Today marks the second night of Kwanzaa – a weeklong celebration of African culture + tradition.

What does Kwanzaa mean?

💚 Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which is Swahili for “first fruits.

How did the celebration of Kwanzaa begin?

❤️ Kwanzaa was started in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor and Chairman of Black Studies at California State University, in response to the Watts riots in Los Angeles, C.A. and to celebrate unity + community in African culture.

🖤 Dr. Karenga combined several different aspects from various African “first fruit” (or harvest) celebrations to form Kwanzaa.

How is it celebrated?

❤️ Kwanzaa is celebrated differently in each family, but most celebrations include songs, dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry readings and a large, traditional meal together.

🖤 Kwanzaa lasts for seven nights (Dec. 26- Jan. 1)with each night representing a different principle. Families gather together to discuss the principle of the night, and a child lights a candle on the ‘Kinara.’

💚 The African feast, ‘Karamu’ is on Dec. 31.

❤️ On the seventh day, meaningful– traditionally handmadegifts are exchanged.

What do the seven symbols mean (or Nguzo Saba)?

Night 1 | black candle | Symbol: Mazao or the crops | Principle: Umoja (oo-MO-jah) or unity (in the family, community, nation + race)
Night 2 | red candle | Mkeka or placemat | Kujichagulia (koo-gee-cha-goo-LEE-yah) or self-determination (Define, create + speak for yourself.)
Night 3 | green candle | Vibunzi or ear of corn | Ujima (oo-GEE-mah) or collective work + responsibility (Build + sustain community together, solving each other’s problems.)
Night 4 | red candle | Mishumaa Saba or The Seven Candles | Ujamaa (oo-JAH-mah) or cooperative economics (Develop + manage stores, shops + businesses; sharing profit together.)
Night 5 | green candle | Kinara or The Candleholder | Nia (nee-YAH) or purpose (One’s purpose is to grow + strengthen community to maintain African people’s traditional greatness.)
Night 6 | red candle | Kikombe Cha Umoja or The Unity Cup | Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah) or creativity (Work to make the community more beautiful + beneficial than it was before.)
Night 7 | green candle | Zawadi or gifts | Imani (ee-MAH-nee) or faith (Believing in your people, parents, teachers, leaders + the righteousness of the community’s struggle.)

Whatever you’re celebrating this holiday season (Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, a couple days off work…), I hope you’re surrounded by loved ones + taking a well-deserved break from the CHS hustle.