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Kwanzaa is a seven day holiday that celebrates the culture and diversity that is found in communities of persons of African descent in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and other countries. It has grown into a holiday that is also celebrated in countries on the continent of Africa.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Ron Karenga, now Dr. Maulana Karenga, to promote African American culture during the height of the civil rights movement. It was established as a means to help African Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage.

Although it is said to mimic an African harvest festival, the word Kwanzaa is taken from the Swahili word for "First Fruit," Dr. Karenga has steadfastly stated that it is not an imitation of any African celebration.

Observed from December 26th through January 1st, Kwanzaa was created to give African Americans a holiday that is considered their own, although people from other countries, religions, and ethnic backgrounds have embraced the concept.

Kwanzaa's main focus is meant to to promote seven principles and each day is dedicated to a specific idea as follows:

  • Unity as a family, coming together as a race, and standing tall with others to help keep our nation strong and proud.
  • Self-determination in the way we live our lives and how we make positive things happen for ourselves.
  • Collective work and responsibility in building our own communities and making them grow and prosper.
  • Cooperative economics that help build wealth for each of us as individuals and as a whole.
  • Purpose in finding was to strengthen our families, neighborhoods, and finding ways to restore our self worth as a people.
  • Creativity in ways to project the beauty and strength that lies within the African American community.
  • Faith in God, our parents, teachers, religious leaders, and those who lead us as a nation.

When Dr. Karenga first started Kwanzaa, he envisioned it as an African American holiday as an alternative for Christmas. He felt that Christianity was a white religion and blacks should turn away from it by embracing their own religious holiday.

But over the years, Dr Karenga's attitude towards Christianity has changed and due to the large number of people, both black and white who have embraced Kwanzaa, he has tried to integrate Kwanzaa with Christmas as part of the holiday season.

Kwanzaa is celebrated by lighting a candle each day in a Kinara which is a candelabra with seven candlesticks. A black candle, lit on the first day, represents African American people. Three red candles are placed on the left of the black candle to represent their struggles. On the right is three green candles representing hope for the future.

The candles are lit from left to right for each day of the celebration and on the seventh night, all candles are lit and remain lit throughout the night to symbolize the whole celebration of Kwanzaa.

Homes are decorated in colorful African inspired decorations and people may dress in traditional African clothing. Christians who celebrate Kwanzaa may also decorate Christmas trees along with the kinara.

A greeting, "Habari Gani?" which means "What's new?" in Swahili is given each day of Kwanzaa. Food, music, reading of African American inspired pledges, and gifts are also a part of Kwanzaa celebrations.

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