Kwanzaa is an African-American cultural festival beginning on December 26 and ending on January 1. The festival was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga. Dr. Karenga's goal was to establish a holiday that would facilitate African-American goals of building a strong family, learning about African-American history, and developing unity.
While developing the new holiday, Dr. Karenga studied many African festivals and found many of them to be harvest related. Because of this, he named the celebration Kwanzaa from the Kiswahili word meaning "first fruits."
Karenga identified seven principles, the Nguzo Saba, of the African-American culture and incorporated them into Kwanzaa. The principles are Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).
Before the Kwanzaa celebration begins, a straw mat (Mkeka) is placed on a table. A Kinara (seven-candle candle holder) and Mshumaa (the seven candles) are placed on the Mkeka along with Muhindi (ears of corn) and the Kikombe Cha Umoja (unity cup). The seven candles include three red ones placed on the right, three green ones placed on the left, and a black one placed in the center. The black candle represents the African-American people, the red candles represent their struggles, and the green ones represent their vision for the future.
Each day of Kwanzaa focuses upon one of the seven principles. After a candle-lighting ceremony, participants discuss what the principle means to them. Gifts are also exchanged during this time. A Karamu (feast) featuring traditional food, a ceremony honoring ancestors, music, and dancing is held on December 31.
The Kwanzaa Information Center provides background information, descriptions of the Kwanzaa principles and symbols, and a celebration schedule.