Issue Date: October 9, 2009
City: New York, NY
In 1966, Maulana Ron Karenga brought the African harvest celebration to America. Swahili for “first,” Kwanzaa occurs from December 26 to January 1. Karenga believed that the principles of producing the harvest were an important part of a strong community.
Kwanzaa is a time for families and friends to join together, enjoy the fruits of their labor, and rededicate themselves to making a better life for family and community. The Seven Principles (Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, collective economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. There are several items common to a Kwanzaa celebration that have special significance. They are the mkeka, a straw mat symbolizing the earth; muhindi, ears of corn that symbolize offspring; zawadi, gifts symbolizing the parents’ work and the rewards of children; kinara, a seven-space candle holder, symbolizing the stalk from which the African people grew; and mishumaa saba, seven candles symbolizing the Seven Principles.
On each day of Kwanzaa, one of these candles is lit. The first is the black candle in the center, which symbolizes African people everywhere. Three red candles, representing the blood of ancestors, are on the left. Three green candles, symbolizing the earth, life, and promise for the future, are on the right.