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Kwanzaa is the most important holiday on the African American calendar. It is the most important because this observance transcends religious, ideological, regional and class boundaries. This celebration combines elements of our African culture and African American experience to provide a framework for instilling strong values. What’s more, Kwanzaa represents the three dimensions important to African culture and history. The first dimension is the past, represented by the spirits of our ancestors and their collective experiences. The second dimension is the present, which is represented by our consistency in maintaining our culture and our commitment to uplift our race. The third dimension is the future represented by the children that are not yet born, the children that we hope and pray will experience real freedom in their lifetime.

Kwanzaa was founded in San Diego, CA by cultural nationalist Dr. Maulana Karenga, and was first observed in 1966. Cultural Nationalism was an important part of the 60’s Black Power Movement. It was this form of nationalism that made the afro hair style, dashiki and Kiswahili popular among some Blacks. The work ‘Kwanzaa’ comes from the Kiswahili phrase “Matunda Ya Kwanza,” which means “first fruits”. Dr. Karenga added an extra “a” to ‘Kwanzaa’ to distinguish this celebration as an African American holiday

The African celebration of first fruits of the harvest is common among many African people. This African practice is done to thank the Creator for the blessing of food for the year. The Kwanzaa holiday was created by Dr. Karenga to reaffirm and restore our African heritage and culture, to introduce the Nguzo Saba, to establish a non-historic African American holiday and to serve as an annual opportunity for us to reaffirm and reinforce our bond as a people.

Kwanzaa is a seven day observances from December 26 to January 1. Through these seven days the Nguzo Saba, which means ’the seven principles’ is used to provide a value system for African Americans. The seven principles are:

  1. Umoja (Unity)

  2. Kujichagulia (Self-determination)

  3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)

  4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

  5. Nia (Purpose)

  6. Kuumba (Creativity)

  7. Imani (Faith)

Each day of Kwanzaa highlights a different principle. Kwanzaa was not created as a replacement or imitation of the traditional seasonal holidays. It is an alternative if one is interested participating in an activity that is African American centered.

OTP blog contribution by Joyce Butts

Accompanying artwork by Linda Fletcher, 2018,

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