Happy Kwanzaa! Learn the Holiday’s Origins, Traditions

The holiday season continues, and since the Department of Defense includes people from many different faiths, ethnicities and backgrounds, it’s time to begin the celebration of Kwanzaa, a seven-day holiday observed by many from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

Not sure what Kwanzaa is all about? Here’s a holiday lesson for you!

U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Damon Kasberg

U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Damon Kasberg

Kwanzaa traces its roots to 1966 and Maulana Karenga, a California State University professor of Africana studies who developed the holiday to celebrate family and African-American heritage.

During the celebration, seven candles are held in a special candle holder called a Kinara, which is placed on a straw mat called a Mkeka. These candles, known as the Mishumaa Saba, represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa, known as the Nguzo Saba. Candles are then lit each day alternately from left to right.

The seven principles represented in the candles correspond to the seven days of celebration in the following order:

  • Umoja, the principle of unity, is about striving for and maintaining unity with one’s family, community, nation and race.
  • Kujichagulia, the principle of self-determination, is the idea that one should define oneself, name oneself, create for oneself and speak for oneself.
  • Ujima, the principle of collective work and responsibility, celebrates the building and maintaining of communities. It also reinforced the idea that communities make each other’s problems their own to solve together.
  • Ujamaa, the principle of cooperative economics, revolves around the goal of building and maintaining stores, shops and other businesses as a community.
  • Nia, the principle of purpose, is about everyone working together to build community to restore people to their traditional greatness.
  • Kuumba, the principle of creativity, is the idea that one should do as much as possible to leave the community more beautiful and beneficial than when it was inherited.
  • Imani, the principle of faith, is about believing in people, in parents, in teachers, in leaders and in the righteousness and victory of struggle.

The colors of the Mishumaa Saba are black, red and green. Black represents the face of the people, red represents blood people shed, and green represents hope.

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