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Kwanzaa Celebrates Seven Ideals of Living

December 26, 2021 through January 1, 2022

Kwanzaa is a yearly cultural celebration inspired by African harvest festivals and created in 1966 to bring African American families together in life-affirming ways. According to founder Maulana Karenga, the name Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili expression, matunda ya kwanza, or “first fruits.”

Dr. Karenga is recognized for his accomplishments as a community builder and a professor and chair of Black Studies at CSU Long Beach. He studied traditional harvest celebrations of the Ashanti, Zulu, and other indigenous African peoples in creating Kwanzaa.

The central theme of Kwanzaa is Nguzo Saba, which defines seven ideals or principles of living: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith). The week-long celebration focuses on a different principle each day.

Kwanzaa activities come to life in family and community gathering places through use of special colors and symbols. The color black represents people of African descent, red represents their history of struggle, and green represents the land and hope for the future. The symbols of Kwanzaa include: mazao (crops), mkeka (mat), kinara (candleholder), mishumaa saba (seven candles), muhindi (corn), kikombe cha umoja (unity cup), and zawadi (gifts).


“As an African American and Pan-African holiday celebrated by millions throughout the world African community, Kwanzaa brings a cultural message which speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense.”

—Dr. Maulana Karenga


Families uphold the spirit of Kwanzaa by giving homemade and educational gifts with a cultural theme, and may patronize Black-owned businesses to shop for gifts. Celebratory feasts (karamu) include music, dance, poetry and narratives. The seventh day is dedicated to reflection and recommitment to the seven principles and other central cultural values.

If you stop and think about it, Kwanzaa’s seven ideals for living are worthy of consideration by all people, everywhere.

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