Kwanzaa: dispelling the myths

By Mike Butler
December 7, 2000

Photo attained from Matt Holmes

by Mike Butler

perspectives editor

Despite being celebrated by over 15 million people, there are a lot of misconceptions about Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa, which means “first fruits of the harvest,” was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga. It has no political or religious base, nor is it a substitute for Christmas. Kwanzaa is a celebration that focuses on traditional African values such as family, community and self-improvement. It is a time of reaffirming African American culture as well as their people and ancestors.

Kwanzaa is celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Those seven days are symbolic of the Nguzo Saba, or seven guiding principles that are celebrated each day. Those principles are unity (Umoja), self-determination (Kujichagulia), community work and responsibility (Ujima), collective economic strength (Ujamaa), purpose (Nia), creativity (Kuumba), and faith (Imani),

To celebrate Kwanzaa, experts say to get an early start in garnering the necessary symbolic items that are needed for a proper Kwanzaa celebration. These items include a candleholder, or Kinara. This candleholder should be fitted to hold seven candles, one for each day of Kwanzaa, and should not be confused with the menorah, which holds nine candles. If you cannot buy a Kinara, you can make one using your Kuumba, or creativity.

When you have bought or built your Kinara, you will need Mishumaa saba, the seven candles that will be lit during Kwanzaa. You will need three red candles, three green candles, and one black candle. The red candles are placed on the right side of the Kinara, the green candles go on the left side, and the black candle stands in the middle.

Other items needed are Mazao, or crops such as vegetables, Mkeka, or placemat where on everything is arranged, Vibunzi, or ears of corn that symbolize the number of children in the household, a Kikombe cha umoja, or communal unity cup, and Zawadi, or the gifts.

Unlike Chanukah, the gifts are usually not given out over the course of the seven days, although the gift-giving can occur at any time. Traditionally, gifts are exchanged between family members on the last day of Kwanzaa. The gifts should be affordable and artistic or educational.

The colors of Kwanzaa are red, green and black so those are the colors to use when decorating your home for this celebration. This is very important on Dec. 31 when the Karamu, or Kwanzaa feast, is held. It is a large communal event that brings its celebrants closer to their African American roots. Ceremonies are encouraged for the feast as the feast involves such themes as welcoming, remembering, reassessment, recommitment, rejoicing, and finally a call for greater unity.

For those looking for more information about Kwanzaa, visit, which stands for “The International Kwanzaa Exchange.”

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Mike Butler

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