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The name Kwanzaa which comes from the word, Kwanza in the East African language of Kiswahili, means the "the first" or "the first fruits of the harvest." The second "a" distinguishes the African-American from the African Kwanza. Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a Black Studies professor. Kwanzaa originated as a cultural idea and an expression of the nationalist "US" organization. It is a non-religious holiday which celebrates family, community, and culture. It is celebrated for seven days, December 26 through January 1.

Kwanzaa is based on seven fundamental principles which are referred to as the Nguzo Saba.

  • Umoja- Unity
  • Kujichagulia- Self-Determination
  • Ujima- Collective Work and Responsibility
  • Ujamaa- Cooperative Economics
  • Nia- Purpose
  • Kuumba- Creativity
  • Imani- Faith

Each day of the holiday is devoted to the celebration of one of those principles. A table is prepared with the Kwanzaa symbols.
The symbols are:

  • Mazao- Fruits and Vegetables
  • Mkeka- A placemat
  • Kinara- A Seven-Branched Candlestick
  • Mishumaasaba- Seven Candles
  • Muhindi- Ears of Corn
  • Kikombe Cha Umoja- A Chalice
  • Zawadi- Gifts

Kwanzaa is a family holiday. Each evening of the holiday, family members should gather together around the celebration table to read the Seven Principles and meditate on the principle of the day while the youngest child lights one of the candles. Celebrants are encouraged to find a way to add to the celebration that best expresses their individuality.

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