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Origins, principles and traditions of Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday celebration that focuses on honoring African heritage. First celebrated in 1966, it is celebrated for seven days each year between the 26th of December and the 1st of January. Because it is a newer holiday, you may not know as much about the traditions of Kwanzaa as you know about Hanukkah and Christmas. But if you are interested in celebrating your African heritage, this is an important event for you to learn about.

Meaning "first fruits," Kwanzaa was first celebrated in order to give African-Americans a unique holiday that they could celebrate instead of (or in addition to) the other holidays already celebrated in December. Because it was first celebrated during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, many African-Americans embraced the idea of having a way to celebrate their unique history as had never been done before.


One of the noted events of Kwanzaa, derived from the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, is the lighting of the kinara, which is a special candle. Also similarly to Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is celebrated for seven straight days in order to celebrate the seven principles of the holiday. The first principle of Kwanzaa is unity, or the drawing together of all who are of African-American descent, to celebrate their heritage. The second principle of Kwanzaa is self-determination, or the celebration of the unique African-American voice.

Other principles of Kwanzaa include collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. As each of these principles are celebrated on successive days, African-Americans have the opportunity to really recognize the ideas that are unique to their heritage and honor the sacrifices of their ancestors, while recognizing the achievements that they will strive to attain in the future.


Kwanzaa has recently come into major recognition, with a Kwanzaa stamp released in the late 1990s, and with President Bush releasing a Kwanzaa message in addition to his Christmas message in 2004. This year, gather with your friends and family during the seven days between Christmas and the New Year, to recognize and honor the African heritage that has formed who you are today. By understanding the origins, principles and traditions of Kwanzaa, you can truly understand the importance of celebrating your own roots in a way that incorporates your entire family.

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