How to Celebrate Kwanzaa

by Holidays & Celebrations Editor

How to Celebrate Kwanzaa. Unlike most holidays, Kwanzaa has neither religious nor political origins. Rather, it was the invention of one man, Dr. Maulana Karenga of Los Angeles, who saw it as a way for African-Americans to reaffirm their ancestors and their culture. The celebration takes place from December 26 through January 1 and focuses on traditional African values of family, community responsibility, commerce and self-improvement.

Gather the 7 Kwanzaa symbols: kinara, a candle holder with space for 7 candles; mkeka, a placemat, preferably made of straw; mazao, fruits and vegetables to represent harvested crops; muhindi, ears of corn, 1 for each child in the family; kikombe cha umoja, a communal cup to symbolize unity; mishumaa saba, 7 candles (1 black, 3 red and 3 green); and zawadi, educational or culturally enriching gifts, exchanged only among parents and children.

Spread the mkeka on a low table or on the floor.

Place the kinara in the center of the mkeka and add the mishumaa saba.

Arrange the muhindi on either side of the mkeka.

Distribute the zawadi, kikombe cha umoja, and a basket of mazao on the mkeka.

Hang a Bendera (flag of the Black Nation) facing east, and deck the room with trimmings of your choice in black, red and green.

Light a new candle on the kinara every day and discuss one of the 7 guiding principles of Kwanzaa (see Tips).

Hold a karamu, which is a Kwanzaa feast, on December 31.

Exchange zawadi (gifts) on January 1.


  • The seven guiding principles of Kwanzaa (the Nguzo Saba) are as follows: Umoja--unity in both family and community; Kujichagulia--self-determination; Ujima--collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa--cooperative economics; Nia--purpose; Kuumba--creativity; and Imani--faith. For the most meaningful Kwanzaa celebration, remember the sixth principle, Kuumba, and make the decorations and the zawadi yourself. If you lack the time to make your own zawadi, good store-bought choices include books, art supplies and musical instruments. If you don't have children in the household for the muhindi (ears of corn), use one ear to represent the African concept of social parenthood. Because Kwanzaa focuses on community, at least two people should participate in the celebration.