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Kwanzaa begins on Tuesday: Here’s some history and facts

Posted at 7:01 AM, Dec 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-26 07:02:25-05

Kwanzaa is African-American holiday celebrated each year from December 26 to January 1.

All it takes is a kind heart and an open mind willing to learn the history of the holiday that celebrates African-American culture.

Here’s some common Kwanzaa knowledge everyone should know.

You can spell it Kwanzaa or Kwanza

Regardless, it’s still pronounced “kwahn-zuh.”

Swahili is the holiday’s language

The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili.

Maulana Karenga, the professor who created the holiday in 1966, chose Swahili as the holiday’s language because it’s one that isn’t defined by a particular African region or tribe.

It’s not a “Hanukkah knockoff”

Yes, it seems a little similar at first. Hanukkah is eight days. Kwanzaa is seven. The Jewish holiday involves a menorah. Kwanzaa lights a kinara. But they both have their own histories.

Kwanzaa is always from December 26 to January 1. Each day is dedicated to the Nguzo Saba, also known as the seven principles.

The kinara holds seven candles, one black, three red and three green, which represent the people, the struggle and the future. They also represent the seven principles: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba) and faith (imani).

You can celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa

They’re not mutually exclusive. Karenga wanted Kwanzaa to be a nonreligious holiday for African-American families to come together and celebrate their ancestral roots. So you can have your merry Christmas and a happy Kwanzaa, too.

It’s OK to be excited for the feast

If your Christmas dinner wasn’t to your liking, Kwanzaa gives you another try to get it right. December 31 marks the day Kwanzaa celebrants come together for a feast known as Karamu. It usually includes different steps, such as a welcome, remembrance, rejoicing and a farewell.

Just don’t think it’s an extension of more gift giving

That’s not what Kwanzaa is about. While the last day of Kwanzaa focuses on gift giving, the presents are usually homemade rather than store-bought. They share values and beliefs around African-American heritage.

Kwanzaa doesn’t discriminate

Clearly it’s a holiday created for African-Americans. But just like people other than Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayo, other races and ethnic groups are welcome to participate in the Kwanzaa rituals.