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What Is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is celebrated in the United States from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

The seven-day festival of Kwanzaa, which celebrates African-American heritage and culture, starts Monday, Dec. 26. Here are some facts about the week-long holiday.

  • Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, now chair of California State Long Beach's Department of Africana Studies, in what he called "an audacious act of self-determination."
  • The name "Kwanzaa" comes from the Swahili for "first fruits."
  • Kwanzaa's focus is the "Nguzo Saba," or the Seven Principles—unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
  • During the week, a candelabrum called a Kinara is lit, and ears of corn representing each child in the family are placed on a traditional straw mat.
  • African foods such as millet, spiced pepper balls and rice are often served. Some people fast during the holiday and a feast is often held on its final night.
  • A flag with three bars—red for the struggle for freedom, black for unity and green for the future—is sometimes displayed during the holiday.
  • Kwanzaa is based on the theory of Kawaida, which espouses that social revolutionary change for black America can be achieved by exposing blacks to their cultural heritage.
  • A poll commissioned by the National Retail Federation and conducted by BIGresearch Oct. 4-11 found that 2 percent of the 8,585 adults surveyed said they would celebrate Kwanzaa, compared to 90.5 percent for Christmas and 5.4 percent for Hanukkah.

Do you have any facts about Kwanzaa that you would like to share? Please write them in the comments section below.

This list was compiled with information from City News Service.

Anise jones December 27, 2011 at 05:49 PM
Thank you for the recognition of and information about this very special celebration in our community. As a Southern California native, African American woman, child of the 1950s/1960s I am very proud that we have a way to share our faith and culture with the world. I know that Kwanzaa is growing into a well respected observance.
Will Wilkin December 27, 2012 at 03:27 PM
"social revolutionary change for black America can be achieved by exposing blacks to their cultural heritage" This is the USA, not a Swahili-speaking country. American identity should focus on our common American culture, our common interests and fate as a nation. To promote splintering "racial" identities is to Balkanize our culture, unnecessarily and, I assert, harmfully. This country needs unity, not artificial identity constructs to make people feel separate. Scientists know there is no such thing as race. In JobLot a few months ago, I happened on the book "Out Of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa" by Keith Richburg. I'm really glad I read it. It paints a horrible picture of African politics and culture today, and contains many reflections by the author on how despite having black skin he felt zero identity with Africa and 100% with the USA. I highly recommend the book to anyone who thinks racial identity means anything (it does not), or that somehow the ancestry hundreds of years removed is more important than building a common culture in the society we share today.

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