Based on an African harvest festival, Kwanzaa is a non-religious observance that celebrates African-American heritage and emphasizes responsibility and commitment to the community. The seven-day celebration takes place from December 26 to January 1.
Kwanzaa means "first fruit" in Swahili. Most of the decorations for this observance are made of natural materials that reflect the harvest. The centerpiece of Kwanzaa decorating is a prominent display of the seven symbols of Kwanzaa:
- Mazao (the crops) -- These are fruits and vegetables of the African harvest arrayed in a bowl made of wood or other natural material.
- Mkeka (a straw mat) -- This serves as the foundation for the display. It represents the tradition and history (foundation) on which African-Americans build their lives.
- Kinara (the candleholder) -- The Kinara represents African-American roots in Continental Africa.
- Muhindi (the corn) -- Each child in the household is represented in the display by an ear of corn. This symbolizes the future that is embodied in children.
- Mishumaa Saba (the candles) -- Placed in the Kinara, the seven candles, three red, three green and a central black candle, represent the seven principles of Blackness, Nguzu Saba.
- Kikombe cha Umoja (the unity cup) -- This cup symbolizes unity with ancestral spirits and all who are present at the libation ritual.
- Zawadi (the gifts) -- Zawadi are earned rewards. They're usually small, handmade, educational and/or African-inspired gifts accompanied with "loving explanations of why the receivers have earned them" [source: Eklof].
The Kwanzaa centerpiece is usually displayed in the living room on a table or fireplace hearth. To decorate the rest of the room, accessorize with traditional African items, such as African baskets, textiles, harvest symbols and art. The colors of Kwanzaa are the colors of the Pan-African flag: red, green and black. As represented in the Mishumaa Saba, red symbolizes struggle and the blood of ancestors; green stands for hope for the future; and black symbolizes the people. To accentuate these colors, bring them together in your gift wrappings, Mazao grouping and festive accessories.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Beresin, Dina Fuchs. "Hanukkah Cheer in Atlanta." Southern Accents: November/December 2008, pp. 72-76.
- Eklof, Barbara. For Every Season: The Complete Guide to African American Celebrations Traditional to Contemporary. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1997.
- Goodfriend, Kim. Arts and Culture Director, Jewish Life and Learning, Marcus Jewish Community Center Atlanta. Interview, September 15, 2009.
- Heiligman, Deborah. Celebrate Hanukkah with Light, Latkes, and Dreidels. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2006.
- Henderson, Helene, ed. Holiday Symbols and Customs, Fourth Edition. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2009.
- Karenga, Maulana. Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press, 2008. The Official Kwanzaa Website. (Accessed 09/10/2009). http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/index.shtml
- Staron, Debi and Bob Pranga. Christmas Style. New York: DK Publishing, Inc., 2004.
- Unity Marketing. "Spending on Holiday Decorations Expected to Top $16 Billion in 2006." (Accessed 09/17/2009). http://www.unitymarketingonline.com/cms_christmas/christmas/pr_main/pr8.php
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