Kwanzaa is celebrated in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and other African countries. According to the History Channel, the name Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Families celebrate Kwanzaa in a variety of ways, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal. 

On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder), then one of the seven principles is discussed. The principles, called the Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili) are values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing community among African-Americans. 

Founded by Dr. Maulana Karenga and first celebrated in 1966, Kwanzaa ebmraces seven basic symbols which represent values and concepts reflective of African culture.

Finally, an African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31.

Exerpts from editorial by C.W. DAWSON: Amid all the celebrations, please remember Kwanzaa

"Though not as popular as Christmas or Hanukah, a remembrance of Kwanzaa is as important today as ever before. Perhaps, even more so. While the celebration is Pan-African in both style and content, it is a celebration that all people can participate.

"Kwanzaa stands on seven main principles.

"1. Umoja: Unity. Unify the family, community, nation, and our people. Parents need to be parents, community leaders must lay aside petty issues and unite the community, and education must become more than learning answers for a standardized test. Umoja understands that united we stand, divided we fall.

"2. Kujichagulia: Self-determination. We have the responsibility and power to create the fundamentally new in our lives. We may have been victimized by systems and powers, but we can re-create our own destiny. Our corporate and individual motto must be ‘I can do all things.’

"3. Ujima: Collective work and responsibility. We must build and maintain our community together. Clearly, we have a call to stop the violence and dehumanization we experience our community.

"4. Ujamaa: Collective economics. This principle encourages the communities of color to invest black and brown dollars in the community and build and grow national and global networks of economic opportunity. One of the first things the black community did after slavery was to build black educational centers and black businesses. Education and economics make a once-enslaved people free.

"5. Nia: Purpose. We must regain the purpose of our lives. It is not to be gangsters and drug dependents. Our purpose is to live in a manner that honors our ancestors and inspires our children and their children toward greatness. Our purpose must be to live with moral integrity and reject the seduction of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, materialism, and militarism.

"6. Kuumba: Creativity. This principle is obvious: we are compelled to make the community, nation, and our people better than how we found them by employing the best of our creativity and imagination. 

"7. Imani: Faith.Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen. It was the faith we possessed by the Christianity of Africa and not of the oppressor, that caused us to believe that trouble will not last always. Because we realized that “I am because we are,” we maintained a faith in others who were our color and those that were not, in other faith practitioners (some Christian and some who were not).

"In this time of division, hostility, and despair celebrating Kwanzaa can give us the occasion to re-capture a greater sense of self, purpose, community, and the God who sets at liberty those who are oppressed.

"In doing so we may re-imagine ourselves as victors and not victims, as an empowered, united community, and not each other’s mortal enemies."