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Woman lighting a Kinara, the candlestick used for Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday consisiting of one week of celebrating, in honor of African-American heritage. The most well known-symbol of Kwanzaa is the Kinara, a candle holder with seven candles, which bears a similar, though not necessarily intentional, appearance to the Jewish menorah used during Hanukkah. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by radical Black activist Ron Karenga, a felon convicted of assault and false imprisonment after he tortured two women.

Its purpose is both to honor African-American heritage and to provide a holiday especially for African-Americans, so that they don't have to accept existing traditions. Dr. Karenga explains in his following quote: " was chosen to give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society." [1]

Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

Each day of the week-long celebration is dedicated to one of Dr. Karenga's "Seven Principles of Kwanzaa":

  • Umoja (Unity) To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems and to solve them together.
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  • Nia (Purpose) To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  • Kuumba (Creativity) To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
  • Imani (Faith) To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.[2]


Some criticize Kwanzaa as being a secular celebration, a major purpose of which is to detract from the religious meaning of Christmas and Hanukkah. One article questions why Dr. Karenga popularized Kwanzaa in winter if it is a harvest festival, the proper celebration time of which is Fall. Some people use the proximity of Kwanzaa to Christmas as an excuse to replace the greeting of "Merry Christmas" with the "inclusive", non-religious "Happy Holidays".[3]