Kwanzaa 2020

The Origins, Meaning, and Traditions of Kwanzaa

December 23, 2020
Kwanzaa Dinner
Askar Abayev/Pexels.com

Kwanzaa 2020 begins on Saturday, December 26, and lasts through January 1, 2021. Learn about the origins and traditions of Kwanzaa!

What Is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday held annually from December 26 to January 1. Fundamentally, it celebrates family, culture, community, and the harvest. The word “Kwanzaa” itself comes from the Kiswahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning “first fruits [of the harvest].”

Kwanzaa focuses on seven essential principles, known as the Nguzo Saba, which are each represented by one day of the seven-day celebration. These principles are unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and 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.

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. It was created with the community and cultural spirit of traditional African harvest festivals in mind, but Kwanzaa itself is uniquely North American, being celebrated mainly in the United States, Canada, and the Carribbean. 

When Is Kwanzaa?

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

Kwanzaa Dates

Year First Day of Kwanzaa Last Day of Kwanzaa
2020 Saturday, December 26 Friday, January 1, 2021
2021 Sunday, December 26 Saturday, January 1, 2022
2022 Monday, December 26 Sunday, January 1, 2023
2023 Tuesday, December 26 Monday, January 1, 2024

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.

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.

Kwanzaa gifts

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.)

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

If you observe Kwanzaa, please share your traditions below!

2022_planner_spring_ad_1.png

Leave a Comment