Learn about Kwanzaa, the world's fastest growing holiday, with these activities and Internet links.
Habari Gani? Those Swahili words, meaning What's the News?, may soon become as familiar a holiday message as Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or Happy New Year. For Habari Gani? is the ritual greeting of Kwanzaa and Kwanzaa is the world's fastest-growing holiday.
This year, millions of people are expected to celebrate Kwanzaa, a non-religious event honoring African American culture and community. The holiday was created in 1966 by Maulana Ron Karenga, an African American scholar and activist. Discouraged by the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and dismayed by the 1965 Watts riots, Karenga based the ceremonies of Kwanzaa around the belief that lasting social change for black Americans would only come about through reacquainting African Americans with their cultural heritage and uniting them in a spirit of family and community.
Seven days, seven principles, seven symbols
Kwanzaa's seven days of celebration, which begin on December 26 and end on January 1, focus on seven principles or goals: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani). The ultimate goal is that those principles, reviewed and reinforced during Kwanzaa, will become a way of life throughout the entire year.
The word Kwanzaa is derived from Swahili words meaning "first fruits of the harvest," and the holiday includes many elements of traditional African harvest celebrations. The most important symbols of Kwanzaa are:
- the mishumaa -- seven candles (3 red, 3 green, 1 black), standing for Kwanzaa's seven principles
- the kinara -- a candleholder, representing the stalk of corn from which the family grows
- the mkeka -- a straw placemat, recalling tradition and history
- the mazao -- a variety of fruit, symbolizing the harvest
- the vibunzi -- an ear of corn for each child, celebrating the child's potential
- the kikombe cha umoja -- a cup of unity, commemorating one's ancestors
- the zawadi -- modest gifts, encouraging creativity, achievement, and success
On each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa, celebrants gather to light the candles and share their thoughts about that day's principle. Each gathering includes discussions and activities representing Kwanzaa's five fundamental concepts:
- unity of family, friends, and community
- reverence for the creator and creation, which encompasses an appreciation of, and respect for, the environment
- commemoration of the past, which includes honoring one's ancestors and valuing one's heritage
- commitment to the cultural ideals of the African community, which include truth, justice, and mutual respect
- a celebration of the "Good of Life" and appreciation for the blessings of achievement, family, and community
The most joyous and elaborate of Kwanzaa's gatherings takes place on December 31, the 6th day of the holiday period. On that night, a great feast (karamu) is held. Families and friends gather to eat, drink, sing, dance, and read stories and poems celebrating their cultural heritage. Everyone sips from the unity cup and many people exchange gifts.