Happy Kwanzaa: History, principles and ways to celebrate

For The Culture

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Families across the country and in the Tampa Bay area are celebrating Kwanzaa as a way to honor African American heritage and the holiday’s key principles.

Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration that has been around since 1966.

“I love celebrating Kwanzaa because it focuses on family, community and supporting Black-owned businesses.,” Kiva Williams said.

Williams is the creator of Fun Foodie Mama. She has celebrated Kwanzaa for decades.

“We started as a traditional Christmas family, but we added Kwanzaa in as a way to pay homage to our African ancestry,” she said. “As a teenager, I grew up celebrating Kwanzaa, now as a mom of three, I want to make sure my kids are celebrating it too.”

Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase, “Matunda Ya Kwanzaa,” which means “first fruits.”

“[The] fruit basket represents the harvest so when you celebrate Kwanzaa, you’re celebrating a new year, a new season, and in the African culture, you do that in harvest,” Williams said.

Kwanzaa was created following the Watts race riots in California. It was derived from Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana studies at California State University in Long Beach. His goal was to create a holiday where African Americans can celebrate their culture during the Christmas season.

“As African Americans we may not know exactly which country we come from, so this is a way to learn about our ancestry,” Williams said.

Seven Principles and Symbols:

During Kwanzaa, seven principles are celebrated. Each of the days is dedicated to one of the seven principles: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba) and faith (imani). There also are seven symbols of the holiday: fruits, vegetables and nuts, a straw mat, a candleholder, ears of corn, gifts, a communal cup signifying unity; and seven candles in the African colors of red, green and black, symbolizing the seven principles. The candles are on the Kinara.

Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. It can be celebrated by anyone. People can also celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa.

“Everyone can get behind the seven principles. Unity, come on. There should be more unity in the community. These are seven principles anyone can celebrate,” Williams said.

Kwanzaa ends Jan. 1.

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