What is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is a week-long (December 26 – January 1) African American holiday to celebrate family, community, and culture. Dr. Maulana Karenga Professor of PAN-African Studies at California State Long Beach, CA, founded the Kwanzaa celebration in 1966, in the aftermath of the Watts Riots Black Freedom Movements.

The name Kwanzaa is derived from a Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits” (harvest). Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their religion or religious holidays but to reaffirm and restore our African culture’s rootedness. Most Kwanzaa celebrations are based on the seven principles (Nguzo Saba) and seven symbols. Every day of the celebration, the family lights one candle and focuses on one of the principles in conjunction with one of the symbols.

The Seven Principles:

  • Unity (Umoja): Striving for and maintaining unity in the family and the community
  • Self-Determination (Kujichagulia): Defining oneself and speaking for oneself
  • Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima): Building and maintaining a community and making our brother’s and sister’s problems our own and solve them together
  • Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa): Building and maintaining our businesses for ourselves and each other
  • Purpose (Nia): To build and develop our collective communities together
  • Creativity (Kuumba): To do whatever we can to leave our communities more beautiful than when we inherited them
  • Faith (Imani): To believe with our hearts in our people, our families, and the righteousness of our struggle
(image courtesy of https://www.postermywall.com/*/happy-kwanzaa-2020-template-design)

 

The Seven Symbols:

Kwanzaa celebrations usually include a special mat called a mkeka in which all the other symbols are placed. On this mat are placed a candle holder called a kinara, seven candles which are collectively called Mishumaa Saba, mazao (fruits, nuts, and vegetables), a unity cup called Kikombe cha Umoja, an ear of corn called vibunzi and zawadi or gifts. (holidayscalendar.com)

 

 

Why is Kwanzaa important? 

As I began to learn more about celebrating Kwanzaa for this AAA-ERG Blog post, I continued to ask myself this very question.

The phrase “cultural connectedness” is the quality and quantity of a person’s connection to others that is at the heart of the Kwanzaa celebration. If you want to make positive changes in a community or even a diverse workplace like Argonne, it starts with ensuring your culture aligns with your values.

Kwanzaa’s seven principles and Argonne’s Core Values share the commitment to building a culture of collaboration, integrity, creativity, and making a positive impact on common goals. In addition, the guiding principles of Kwanzaa emphasize the value of the relationship for how family unity is a bridge for stronger communities which leads to developing a positive and fruitful culture of togetherness.

For more information about Kwanzaa: