Where did the holiday, Kwanzaa, originate?

‘Tis the season for Kwanzaa! This holiday takes place December 26 through January 1 each year. Kwanzaa celebrates harvest festival traditions from various parts of Africa. Where did Kwanzaa originate? You might be surprised to learn Kwanzaa started in the United States. Read on to discover more about this winter holiday!

Kwanzaa colors
The colors of Kwanzaa: black, red and green (Illustration credit: DmNdm, Depositphotos.com)

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Kwanzaa’s Origin

Although Kwanzaa is based on ancient and modern celebrations in Egypt and Southeastern Africa, the Kwanzaa holiday as we know it today was started in the United States. The goal of this holiday was to bring African Americans together as a community.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga after the Watts Riots in Los Angeles. He was a professor at California State University, Long Beach.

Colors of Kwanzaa

The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red, and green. Black represents the color of the people of Africa. Red stands for the struggles of the African people and the blood they’ve shed. Green symbolizes the fertile land of Africa and hope.

Kwanzaa Principles

The holiday takes place over seven nights. Similar to Hanukkah, candles are lit every night of Kwanzaa. Each night represents a different principle, outlined below.

1. Unity
2. Self-determination
3. Collective work and responsibility
4. Cooperative economics
5. Purpose
6. Creativity
7. Faith

Traditional symbols of Kwanzaa
(Photo credit: DmNdm, Depositphotos.com)

Kwanzaa Symbols

Similarly, each day of Kwanzaa is represented by a different symbol.

1. Crops like fruits, nuts, and vegetables symbolize work and harvest
2. A straw or cloth placemat representing history, culture, and tradition
3. Ear of corn, standing for fertility and family
4. The seven candles celebrate the sun and light
5. The candle holder, as a symbol of ancestry
6. A cup, representing unity
7. Gifts, rewarding accomplishments and commitments

Kwanzaa's Karamu Feast may feature soul food like collard greens and cornbread
Kwanzaa’s Karamu feast may feature soul food like collard greens and cornbread (Photo credit: bhofack2, Depositphotos.com)

Karamu Feast

Kwanzaa culminates in a traditional feast called Karamu, which is typically held on New Year’s Eve. Presents are also given on this final night of the holiday, especially to children.

Foods served at this celebratory meal vary from family to family and may include traditional dishes from various countries in Africa like Ghanaian groundnut stew or West Indian or South African curry dishes. Revelers may also serve African American soul foods like fried catfish, cornbread, sweet potato pie, and collard greens.

Take a look at Kwanzaa dish suggestions from the Food Network or Fruits of the Harvest: Recipes to Celebrate Kwanzaa and Other Holidays, available from Amazon. 

Learn More About Kwanzaa

Want to learn more about Kwanzaa? Read about the history of Kwanzaa on History.com.

Share the meaning of Kwanzaa with kids with this fun children’s book, Kwanzaa: 7 Principles, Celebration, Decorations, Traditions and Symbols.

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  1. Harvest fruits, vegetables and etc, this is similar like harvest day in India. We called Onam. But we wearing white dress with gold color as combination to celebration.

  2. These are some interesting facts about Kwanzaa that I never knew. I always love to learn about other cultures and holidays.

    1. Lol. That word… “fake”.

      You realize that all holidays share the same validity, right? And you realize Christmas is celebrating someone whose followers slaughtered millions in the quests to shove their religion down the throats of the world? So I mean, comparing one dude in prison to an entire cult following attempting to convert the world to Christianity because they felt that Jesus would love them more if they participated is a bit out there.

      I mean, the only meaning I get from your comment is “I’m a huge hillbilly who felt it necessary to try and propagate racist views on a blog comment section”. That about do it, James Singer?

    2. Hey, James, you want to hear something amazing? ALL holidays are created by people. Also – because you strike me as this type – Christmas is NOT Christ’s birthday, nor is it Christian. Christmas is a holiday that was created when Christians co-opted the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice so that they could celebrate the birth of Christ without being persecuted. Please go away and stop polluting the internet with your filth.
      Kwanzaa is an amazing holiday. The tenets on which it’s founded are things that serve to better everyone and remind us all to be grateful. EXCELLENT read, Colleen!