It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and for those celebrating Kwanzaa, it won’t end when the clock strikes midnight on Christmas night. The week-long celebration, created by African American studies professor, activist and author Maulana Karenga in 1966, honors African American culture and culminates with a feast and gift-giving. Even if you don’t celebrate, get a sense of the holiday’s spirit using Pulse’s guide.
Date: Kwanzaa takes place each year from Dec. 26-Jan. 1.
Who Celebrates: The holiday was created to honor African American heritage, but it is estimated that 2 million people in the U.S. will celebrate Kwanzaa, including those of non-African descent. Millions more around the world also observe the holiday, particularly in western Africa. People who observe Kwanzaa may also celebrate Christmas.
History Lesson: Karenga created Kwanzaa, the first specifically African American holiday, during the black nationalist movement as a way to help African Americans re-discover their African heritage. The name Kwaanza is derived from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza (first fruits).
Seven Principles: Each day of Kwanzaa celebrates one of the seven principles or Nguzo Saba: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).
Decor: Those celebrating Kwanzaa adorn their homes with corn, colorful arts and African cloths such as kente, which is made of silk and cotton fabric. A candle holder kinara with seven candles (three red, three green and one black) and a communal cup are also common items placed in the home.
Greetings: “A Joyous Kwanzaa” is the holiday greeting. During Kwaanza, people will often ask “Habari gani?” (What’s the news?) The answer is the day’s principle.
Traditions: The black candle is lit on the first day of Kwanzaa to signify those celebrating the holiday. Kwanzaa ceremonies typically include drumming, dance, food and drink and a recitation of the African Pledge.