Kwanzaa 2023: What and When Is Kwanzaa? | Origins and Traditions | The Old Farmers Almanac

Kwanzaa 2024: How is Kwanzaa Celebrated?

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Vector illustration of Kwanzaa. Holiday african symbols with lettering on white background.
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The Origins, Meaning, and Traditions of Kwanzaa

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Kwanzaa—a celebration of family, community, and culture—begins on Thursday, December 26. Learn about the traditions of Kwanzaa, and try our delicious recipe for curred Kwanzaa stew!

What Is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday celebration of African-American culture held annually from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a communal feast.

This is not a religious holiday but a cultural celebration based on African harvest festival traditions and is a way to celebrate African heritage and legacy, much like other cultural celebrations. 

Fundamentally, Kwanzaa celebrates family, culture, community, and the harvest during the dark days of winter.  The word “Kwanzaa” itself comes from the Kiswahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning “first fruits [of the harvest].” 

The seven-day festival focuses on seven essential principles, known as the Nguzo Saba, each represented by one day of the seven-day celebration. These principles are:

  1. unity (umoja), 
  2. self-determination (kujichagulia), 
  3. collective work and responsibility (ujima), 
  4. cooperative economics (ujamaa), 
  5. purpose (nia), 
  6. creativity (kuumba), and 
  7. faith (imani).

Despite the fact that it is often thought of as a substitute for Christmas or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, and families who celebrate Kwanzaa often celebrate it in addition to Christmas, Hanukkah, or another religious holiday.

Kwanzaa US postage stamp, 1997
Fun Fact: On October 22, 1997, the first Kwanzaa U.S. postage stamp was issued, featuring art by Synthia Saint James.

History of Kwanzaa

You may be surprised to learn that the modern holiday of Kwanzaa is a relatively new creation, though it has its roots in traditions that go back generations. 

First celebrated in 1966, Kwanzaa is the brainchild of Dr. Maulana Karenga—an African-American author, professor, and activist—to nurture the community and cultural spirit of African Americans. 

While created with the traditional African harvest festivals in mind, Kwanzaa itself is uniquely North American, being celebrated mainly in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. 

While the holiday is focused on the African-American community, all people are invited to celebrate and learn about the values of Kwanzaa and African-American culture.

Happy Kwanzaa from The Old Farmers Almanac, December 26

When Is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is an annual holiday that begins on December 26 and lasts through January 1.

Kwanzaa Dates
YearFirst Day of KwanzaaLast Day of Kwanzaa
2024Thursday, December 26Wednesday, January 1, 2025
2025Friday, December 26Thursday, January 1, 2026
2026Saturday, December 26Friday, January 1, 2027
2027Sunday, December 26Saturday, January 1, 2028

Celebrating Kwanzaa

During Kwanzaa, people traditionally decorate their homes with straw mats, ears of corn, and a candleholder called a kinara, which is adorned with red, green, and black candles. 

  • Red is said to represent ancestry and unity; 
  • black, the people; 
  • and green, the fertile land (Africa). 

A candle is lit for each day of Kwanzaa, and celebrants may also exchange gifts.

Kwanzaa gifts wrapped in happy kwanzaa paper

The entire celebration is capped with a feast on December 31, which is usually held at a community center and features traditional music and dancing.

Do you plan to celebrate with a feast? Perhaps try including this curried Kwanzaa stew.

The Kiswahili phrase Habari gani—meaning “What is the news?”—is used as a greeting among family and friends. (The response to this phrase should be whichever of the seven principles is associated with the current day.)

If you observe Kwanzaa, please share your traditions below!

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann