Kwanzaa: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday celebrated by African-Americans that coincides with Christmas and Hanukkah.

Here’s what you need to know about the holiday.

1. It Was Created in the 1960s

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Maulana Karenga, center (Wikipedia)

Kwanzaa was created by Maulana Karenga (born Ronald McKinley Everett) in 1965 as the first African-American only holiday.

Karenga was inspired to create the holiday by the black nationalist movement as an alternative to Christmas. It was meant to help African-Americans reestablish their connections to African culture that their ancestors and descendants lost from being subjected to the slave trade.

At first it was intended to be oppositional to Christmas, but not wanting to disclude any celebrants, Karenga changed his mind in 1997 and said that Kwanzaa was not intended to divide, but unite.

Now many African-Americans celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa.

2. It Gets Its Name From the Swahili Phrase ‘Fruits of Harvest’

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According to Karenga, the holiday draws its name from a Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” meaning “fruits of harvest.”

Swahili was chosen as the unifying African language because Swahili is spoken in East Africa. East Africa was not part of the Atlantic slave trade, and thus was not subjected to the devastating culture loss like those of West African descent.

3. It Celebrates Seven Cultural Principles

Maulana Karenga, kwanzaa,


In Kwanzaa, seven principles of African culture are celebrated.

Each day of the week-long celebration is dedicated to one of these seven principles.

The seven principles include unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

4. Seven Candles Symbolize the Principles

Maulana Karenga, kwanzaa,


The seven principles are represented with seven candles, each one lit on the day it represents. The candle colors are the traditional color representations of Africa.

The candles are place in a holder called a kinara, which is then placed on a decorative mat with corn, fruit, and a cup for libations.

5. It Has Spread to Other Nations

Maulana Karenga, kwanzaa,


Kwanzaa is still a new holiday, and its hard to gauge exactly how many African-Americans actually celebrate the tradition.

However, Kwanzaa has spread to Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Jamaica, and Brazil.

This year Kwanzaa begins December 26 and ends January 1, 2015.

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