GXB15756 Kwanzaa – The Celebration of Family by Diana Elizabeth Stanley © Wind River Studios

Celebrated annually, Kwanzaa represents unity and prosperity among people of color everywhere. Kwanzaa was initiated in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga, a black-studies professor at California State University at Long Beach. Meaning “first fruit” in Swahili, Kwanzaa is a nonreligious ceremony incorporating themes of various African harvest festivals. Kwanzaa is based on a theory known as “Kawaida” — the need for black people to understand their heritage in order to help further change and progress within the black community. A variety of symbolic objects are used during the festivities, which start on December 26 and last for seven days. A straw mat (Mkeka) is the foundation on which seven colored candles (Mshumaa) are arranged. For each day of Kwanzaa, a corresponding candle is dedicated to one of the Seven Principles (Nguzo Saba): unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. During nightly ceremonies, family members light the appropriate candle and discuss the principle of the day. The flag of black nationalism also plays a significant role in the Kwanzaa festival. The vivid hues of the red, black and green stripes symbolize blood, black people and the land they struggle for. The final day of the Kwanzaa celebration is on January 1, following the Karamu feast where black community members exchange gifts on the evening of December 31.

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