Kwanzaa: How To Celebrate African Culture, Properly

Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday but a holiday that celebrates the values of ancient African culture. In addition, it was created to bring inspiration to African-Americans who worked for progress during a great time of social change for blacks in America during the 1960s.

This pan-African holiday was created in 1966 by Maulana “Ron” Karenga, who is now a professor and chairman in the department of Africana Studies at California State University: Long Beach. Born with the birth name Ronald McKinley Everett, he changed his name to Maulana (Swahili-Arabic for “master teacher) and Karenga (Swahili for “keeper of tradition”).

Kwanzaa is based on the year-end harvest celebrations that have been occurring in Africa for thousands of years. Its name comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits of the harvest”.

Below, you will find the day-by-day instruction- the seven principles of the Nguzo Saba– to celebrate the African culture, respectfully.

The Kinara, candleholder, and the Mishumaa Saba, the seven candles for Kwanzaa. (Source:

The Guide

Everyday, the question “Habari gani?” which mean “What’s the news?” should be asked. You or the person responding should say the principle of the day.

At the end of each day, the candles are blown out; however, before this happens, “Harambee” which means “Let’s pull together” is cheered seven times, collectively as a group.

The Set-Up

Choose a table that is in the center of your home and spread a piece of African cloth or the Bendera Ya Taifa (the Black Nationalist flag) on it. Then, the mkeka (mat) is placed down with the Kinara (candleholder) on top with the Mishumaa Saba (seven candles) The candles are black for the people, red for their struggles and green for the future and hope that comes from their struggle.

In addition, mazao (crops that symbolize the historical roots of the harvest), vibunzi (ears of corn that symbolize offspring), Kikombi cha Umoja (unity cup that is used for libation and to drink from), the Nguzo Saba poster (poster with all seven principles) and zawadi (gifts that symbolize the education and culture, such as African history-cultural literature or symbols) should be on this table. Furthermore, the house should have red, black and green decorations with artwork that expresses the African culture.


This is translate from Swahili to mean “Let’s pull together!” (Source:

Day One- December 26

Umoja (Unity)

On day one, someone (usually the youngest) will light the black candle which will mark the commencement of the festival. The person responsible for lighting the candle makes a statement and reads a passage or poem about the principle for this day which is Umoja for unity. The action of unity is “to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.” All people present should listen to the statement and understand it so they can explain the principle and its meaning in their own words. Following this, the eldest should take the Umoja and pour tambiko (libation) on a plant. This process is to remember and honor the ancestors who paved the way which you walk. During this time, whomever the eldest is should read Tamshi la Tambiko (The Libation Statement) and everyone drinks from the unity cup.

Day Two- December 27

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)

The next day, the black candle gets lit in addition to the farthest red candle from the black one. The person who lit the candles will read another passage or poem and explain how this relates to him- or herself and the principle that means “to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.” Followed by an explanation of Kujichagulia from the members present for comprehension, the libation process and drinking from the unity cup.

Day Three- December 28

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)

With addition to the black and red candles getting lit, the farthest green candle gets lit, as well. The people in the home explain Ujima and the action this it proclaims- “to build and maintain our community together and to make our Brother’s and sister’s problems, our problems and to solve them together.” Libation is poured and the unity cup is drank from.

Day Four- December 29

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

On the fourth day of Kwanzaa, the previous candles are lit in addition to the next to last red one. Ujamaa is “to build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.” Members of the family read literature affiliated with this and themselves, follow the libation process and drink from the Umoja.

Portrait of African American author, activist, and professor Maulana Karenga with his wife Tiamoya celebrating Kwanzaa. (Source:

Day Five- December 30

Nia (Purpose)

The action of Nia is “to make as our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.” The preceding candles get lit with the next to last green candle. The family reads literature associated with this principle, the pouring of tambiko and the Libation Statement is said followed by the drinking from the unity cup.

Day Six- December 31

Kuumba (Creativity)

This day is the Kwanzaa feast- Karamu. On this day, the last red candle is lit after the lighting of the other candles. Even though this isn’t the seventh day of Kwanzaa, members will read literature that explain all seven principles. Along with this feast, different creative things are happenings since the action of Kuumba is “to do always as much as we can, in the way that we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful than when we inherited it.” Thus, innovation and creativity goes into planning this day. After the events are done, this is when you exchange gifts, especially educational based. Tamshi la Tutaonana, which was written by Dr. Karenga, is read by the eldest member before the conclusion of the Karamu ceremony. This is a farewell statement for the feast and the year followed by libation and the drinking from the unity cup.

Day Seven- January 1

Imani- Faith

The last candle to get lit on this day is the green candle directly next to the black candle. Literature is read from all members that explain Imani and its action “to believe with all our hearts in our parents, our teachers, our leaders, our people and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.” The pouring of tambiko is done this last time as well as the drinking from the Umoja.

Nguzo Saba: The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. (Source:

**This article is a general guide for Kwanzaa. Families may celebrate this holiday differently from each other.

**This article came together with the help of Latarsha Williams Burke, TCNJ alum. ’94.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s