The holiday spans seven days from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, each representing a central core value. Though it coincides with other religious holidays, Kwanzaa is primarily a celebration of African culture and heritage and not an alternative celebration of faith.
Kwanzaa originated in the United States and is prominent both here and in Canada but it is designed to resonate with Africans and people of African descent the world over. It's also designed as a family occasion and should be conducted accordingly to best exemplify the holiday's core values.
At the heart of Kwanzaa lie seven principles of African heritage, known as nguzo saba, represented by each of the candles and dedicated to each of the seven days in the holiday. Though the atmosphere and tradition may be unique to each participating family, red, black and green typically represent the holiday. Black symbolizes humans, red symbolizes struggle and green symbolizes hope.
Traditional greetings in observance of Kwanzaa include "Habari gani?" (What is the news?), prompting a response that defines the day's principle. The act of lighting each candle signifies the central theme for each day to be carried out by the family. Each new day a candle is lit, the preceding candles are lit again to reaffirm the lessons we have learned.
The principles of each day:
Each of these principles can be observed in a number of ways but community is often best celebrated around a central family dinner table. The decorations do not have to be flashy or extravagant — they serve as basic reminders for each of the elements.
Perhaps the peak of Kwanzaa is the Kwanzaa Karamu (feast) that takes place on New Year's Eve. The feast serves as a vehicle for cooperation, and the whole family lends a hand in the cooking process. Gifts (zawadi) of creativity (kuumba) are exchanged on the last morning of Kwanzaa.
This article serves as a guide, but make Kwanzaa your own. Do not lose sight of the communal aspect, but also note that unique family traditions and interpretations are what helps keep this and other celebrations alive for coming generations. Fill your home with the sights and sounds particular to your heritage and cherish the moments the holiday offers.
And most importantly, Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri! May your Kwanzaa be happy!
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