Kwanzaa is the 7 day festival that begins on December 26th and goes until New Years Day. Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga and is a beautiful celebration of faith, community and creativity. This festival originates from African harvest festivals and was created so that African Americans and Pan Americans could celebrate their heritage and come together in unity.
Each day of Kwanzaa focuses on a different principle and each night a new candle on the kinara is lit. Kinara’s can be expensive so if you wanted to celebrate Kwanzaa with your family, you could always make a paper kinara and add a paper flame to the appropriate candle each night. Some examples of paper kinara’s are HERE and HERE.
The 7 principles or pillars of Kwanzaa are things that EVERYONE can strive for all year long. Below I have included the 7 principles, some ideas for activities that you and your family can do for each and some of our favorite Kwanzaa books.
7 Pillars of Kwanzaa
1. Umoja or Unity–This pillar is there to remind people of the importance of unity in their families, their communities and their race. The center black candle is lit on this night. To celebrate Umoja, it might be a great time to have a family game night, a special family dinner or go on a Gratitude Walk as a family. Click HERE to learn more.
2. Kujichagulia or Self-Determination—Kujichagulia is all about defining who you are and what you stand for. The far left red candle is lit on this night. Kujichagulia would be a great day to set some goals with your children. Maybe you could do a New Year Interview or create a vision board together of their hopes and dreams. This could be done with old magazine photos, drawings and you could even make a big family vision board.
3. Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility-–Ujima is about working as a community to solve problems. The far right green candle is lit on this night. Ujima would be a great day to volunteer your time. Perhaps you could donate food to the local food bank, visit a nursing home, bring animal supplies to a shelter or clean up a local park.
4. Ujamaa or Coopertive Economics—Ujamaa is all about supporting local businesses to help them to thrive and grow in your community. The second red candle is lit on this night. Small businesses are vital to our local economies and Ujamaa is a great day to show them your appreciation. Perhaps today you make cards for the local businesses in your community and deliver them with a “Thank You” for all they do.
5. Nia or Purpose-–Nia is all about building community and remembering our traditions. The second green candle is lit on this night. To celebrate Nia you could visit or call the elders in your family and ask them to share stories of the past (I know they’d love to hear from you). Make sure to record these precious conversations so that you can play them back again and again. It might be fun to look through old photo albums to see how traditions have been passed down in your family from generation to generation.
6. Kuumba or Creativity-–Kuumba encourages us to do as much as we can to leave our world and surroundings better off than when we came. The last red candle is lit on this night. Kuumba would be a great day to clean up your street, your local park or help a neighbor with an outdoor chore. If your world is covered in snow, perhaps you make hot cocoa for the town plow drivers or give them gift cards to a local coffee shop. You could make some artwork for the local nursing home to brighten up the residents rooms and leave the world a little brighter. The sixth night of Kwanzaa is also time for the Karamu or the big feast of Kwanzaa.
7. Imani or Faith—Imani is there to remind us to believe in the people around us (parents, teachers and leaders) and to remember the struggle of the African Americans in this nation. The last green candle is lit this night. You can celebrate Imani by thanking all those people in your life who help you out. Maybe you could write thank you notes for the gifts you received during the holidays or call someone special to let them know how much they mean to you.
A Great Overview of Kwanzaa for Young Children
Favorite Books for Kwanzaa
This book is no longer in print but you may be able to get it at your local library. This is a sweet story of kindness is all about Imani learning about Kwanzaa and her family traditions from her grandmother. In this story it is the sixth night of Kwanzaa and time for the Karamu (the big feast of Kwanzaa) on New Year’s Eve. It is Imani’s turn to light the Kinara on this special night and she is nervous. What will the gift for Imani be?
This is a nice alphabet book that helps to understand all of the Swahili words and customs associated with Kwanzaa. This is a great book for your family if you have never celebrated Kwanzaa before and would like to learn more about this festival of light and family. From the publisher: “A unique alphabet book for children and a wonderful introduction to Kwanzaa, the holiday that celebrates African American heritage.
For example:A is for Africa — Africa is the second largest continent. It has many countries. African Americans’ ancestors came from Africa. Kwanzaa is a holiday that celebrates the rich heritage of Africa.”
From the publisher: “Kwanzaa is Kayla’s favorite time of year. But this year, it looks as if a heavy snowstorm will keep her big brother, Khari, from getting home in time for the festivities! Will Khari miss the celebration completely? Or will Kayla and her brother somehow find a way to be together for Kwanzaa? A perfect introduction to Kwanzaa, this book will teach children all about the traditions and practices that make it a special winter holiday.”
From the Publisher: “Li’l Rabbit is not having a very good Kwanzaa. Granna Rabbit is sick, and so his family won’t celebrate his favorite part of Kwanzaa this year: a big feast called Karamu. Li’l Rabbit knows what to do! He’ll find Granna Rabbit a special treat for Karamu so she can celebrate anyway. Inspired by Brer Rabbit, a trickster character from the African-American folklore tradition, the story of Li’l Rabbit captures the true meaning of Kwanzaa—coming together to help others.”