Kwanzaa is traditionally celebrated after Christmas; it lasts from December 26 to January 1. Created by Maulana Karenga, a black activist, Kwanzaa is a festival derived from the civil rights movement, and it pays homage to the global African community. Kwanzaa is a composite of several African harvest traditions, and it celebrates seven principles (or Nguzo Saba): Umoja (Unity), Kuji-chagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).
The above principles are celebrated in order during the seven-day festival. On each day, one of seven candles or Mishumaa Saba is lighted. Mishumaa Saba consists of three green candles, three red candles, and one black candle. On the first day of Kwanzaa (December 26), the black candle (symbolizing Umoja or unity) is lighted. As a rule, the Mishumaa Saba (seven candles) are placed in the kinara (candle holder), and the kinara is then placed on a mkeka (mat) that rests on top of an African tablecloth. The black candle is always placed in the center of the kinara.
On the right of the black candle, three green candles representing Ujima, Nia, and Imani are placed. On the left of the black candle, three red candles representing Kujichagulia, Ujamaa, and Kuumba are placed. The three colors are derived from the black nationalist flag that Marcus Garvey created. The kinara symbolizes the deep respect African families have for their ancestors. During Kwanzaa, some people visit nursing homes, elderly family members, or elderly friends to show their appreciation for the aged. Ears of corn or mihindi are also placed on the mkeka to represent fertility and the number of children in the family.
On the sixth day of Kwanzaa, many celebrants enjoy a karamu or feast. Many wear traditional African clothing to attend the karamu. During the feast, a Unity cup or kikombe cha umoja is used to perform a libation ritual. The libation (or tambiko) is usually juice, water, or wine; each person drinks from the cup as a sign of unity. After everyone has drunk, the last portion of the tambiko is poured out in the direction of the four winds to honor the ancestors. The dishes that are shared during the feast varies. Some families choose to enjoy Caribbean, South American, or traditional African diaspora dishes.
Menus can include Jollof rice, collard greens, Yassa chicken, beef and groundnut stew, and sweet potato biscuits. Here's an example of a Kwanzaa karamu menu: Kwanzaa feast.
On the seventh and last day of Kwanzaa, celebrants traditionally give gifts or zawadi to their friends and family members. Some gifts are homemade, in honor of the Kwanzaa principles of creativity, accomplishment, and self-determinism. Children are also given gifts to reward accomplishments and to promote future successes. In all, these are some of the traditional ways to celebrate Kwanzaa.