Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African American history and coming together as a community as brothers and sisters. Kwanzaa became a cultural tradition after the Watts Riots in Los Angeles, California in 1965. Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Black Studies at California State University, created Kwanzaa after witnessing the disheartening violence in his community. Karenga sought out ways to bring African Americans together by combining aspects from several African harvest celebrations, thus forming Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa begins on Dec. 26 and ends on New Year’s Day. Each of these seven days represent a different principle such as unity, self determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
Sophomore Safiyah Taylor has been celebrating Kwanzaa for her whole life. Taylor and her family partake in different activities each day depending on the day’s principle. Similar to Christmas, during Kwanzaa, Taylor’s family exchanges gifts. “We call [these gifts] Zawadi. These are hand made gifts that we usually make during Kuumba,” Taylor said. Kuumba is the sixth day that means creativity.
Taylor and her family celebrate the Karamu which is a feast on Kuumba. During this event the Taylor family and friends come together to share a meal and celebrate their culture.
“Every night during Kwanzaa, we eat together as a family, read a book at the table, talk about an ancestor and pour libations, and light a candle on the Kinara,” Taylor said. The Kinara has seven candles to represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa. There is one black candle in the middle along with three red candles on the left and three green candles on the right. “On the first night you light the black one. On the second night, you light the black one and the farthest red one on the left. The next night the farthest green one on the right gets added. You just go in that order,” Taylor said.
An estimated 500,000 to 2 million people celebrate Kwanzaa each year in the U.S., according to author Kieth Mayes. Taylor and her family look forward to celebrating together this season.