Many families transform an area of their
home with decorations to celebrate Kwanzaa. African red, green and black
represent the holiday, and are often used to adorn the Kwanzaa table and
the area around it. Black symbolizes the face of the African-American
people, red represents the blood they have shed, and green stands for
the hope and color of the motherland.
Use of all or some of the seven symbolic
objects associated with the holiday are commonly incorporated into
decorations for Kwanzaa. The Kinara (ritual candleholder) sits atop the
Mkeka (mat) in the center of the Kwanzaa table. The Mishumaa Saba (seven
candles), representing the Nguzo Saba (seven principles), consist of
three red candles, three green, and one black one. The black candle is
placed in the center of the Kinara, with three red candles on the left
and three green ones on the right. Families may also use a green or
black tablecloth for the Kwanzaa table.
The symbols for the Mazao (the crops) are
fruits and vegetables, which can be placed on the table in a basket to
symbolize the prosperity of the harvest. If there are Muhindi (ears of
corn) on the Kwanzaa table, that means there are children in the family.
Some families place Vibunzi (one ear of corn) on the Mkeka (mat) for
each child in the family. Zawadi (gifts) such as heritage symbols, books
or African-influenced artwork make nice additions to the table as well.
We have enumerated
below some common rituals and practices that occur during the week long
celebrations. Many regional variations of these practices can noted. It
is important to emphasize that there is no wrong or right way of
celebrating Kwanzaa. The important bit is to uphold the spirit with
which the festival was initially formed.
On the first day of
Kwanzaa (December 26) the Mtume (leader or minister) calls the family
together. When everyone is present, the Mtume greets them; Habari Gani,
and the family responds Umoja. THus the Kwanzaa celebration has begun.
The celebration is conducted in the following order, substituting each
principle for the response on its respective day.
A prayer is offered
by a member of the family (all standing).
(Let's Pull Together) is a call for unity and collective work and
struggle of the family.
raises up the right arm with open hand and while pulling down,
closes the hand into a fist.
is done in sets of seven in honor and reinforcement of the Nguzo
The Mtume briefly
talks about the concept of Kwanzaa, using the theme or focus of
Kwanzaa as a sense of direction.
(Libation) is performed by an elder. The elder should pour the
libation using juice or water from the Tambiko set up in honor of
Greeting should be
done by the family member (preferably a youth) assigned the lighting
of Mshumaa (candle).
is performed by the Youth. The Youth should light the Mshumaa
(candle) for the principle of the day (i.e. Umoja (Unity) on the
first day of Kwanzaa). After the lighting, the principle of the day
should be discussed by every member participating in the ceremony.
The discussion should focus on each member's understanding of the
principle and their commitment and responsibility to practice that
principle for the betterment of self, family and Black people.
A story, song or an
object that is reflective of the principle for the day (i.e. Umoja
(Unity) - Black Frying Pan) and a Scripture reading related to the
principle is essential in reinforcing the meaning of that principle.
(Gifts). In Kwanzaa gifts are played down and spiritual and social
rejuvenation is played up. Hand made gifts are strongly encouraged
over commercial purchases. Items related to the Black heritage or
items that have a special meaning that will help the person through
the next year are strongly recommended. The gifts should be
reflective of a commitment to education and the riches of our
cultural heritage and a sign of the struggle for liberation for
Black people. The gifts can be fruits shared each night by members.
The gifts can be given to the children in one of two ways:
One gift can be given
each day to reinforce the principle for that day, or
On December 31st. during
the Karamu (Feast), all gifts can be given.
Karamu (Feast) is held on the
night of December 31st. and includes food, music, dance, etc.
Kwanzaa is a relatively new
holiday, so families and organizations have the freedom to start their
own traditions and observe the harvest festival with as much creativity,
or Kuumba, as they like. Gathering together to celebrate Kwanzaa might
be a casual cultural ceremony to some families, while it represents a
more spiritual observance to others. People can choose to dress
partially or fully in African clothing, or attend a Kwanzaa program
where dancers and community leaders display traditional African clothing
for them instead. Since it is up to the members of the family or
organization to decide how to observe Kwanzaa, there are endless
possibilities for this important African-American holiday. Get together
with members of your community, share your family customs and start new