Back to Blog

Celebrating Together: Kwanzaa

Published on Dec. 26, 2023

The end of the year marks a time many from around the world come together for holiday celebrations. At Valley Children’s, we recognize and celebrate this time to be with loved ones and cherish our time together. To continue celebrating this holiday season, we would like to introduce you to Kwanzaa to share and celebrate with your family. 

What is Kwanzaa?  

Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration honoring African American culture and heritage. During Kwanzaa, families and friends come together each day to give thanks, participate in gift exchanges and have traditional Kwanzaa foods.  

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 following the Civil Rights movement in the United States. Activist Maulanga Karenga created Kwanzaa to empower African Americans to rediscover and honor their African roots and encourage pride in the Black community following the discrimination many faced during this period. Kwanzaa means "first fruits" in Swahili, a language spoken in Africa, and refers to the joy and unity many Africans have when celebrating the harvest season. 

How Kwanzaa is Celebrated 

Many families decorate their homes with symbols of African heritage during Kwanzaa. Traditional woven mats, called mkeka, are placed on tables to represent the traditions that the holiday is based on. Meaningful items are arranged on the mkeka, such as a basket filled with fruits and vegetables to represent the harvest season, and one ear of corn for each child in the family. A unity cup, called a kikombe cha umoja, is also placed on the mkeka. 

A large part of celebrating Kwanzaa is lighting candles on a kinara each night. A kinara holds seven candles: one black, three red and three green. The black candle represents unity among people of African descent. The red candles, placed on the far left of the kinara, represent the past and the green candles, on the far right of the kinara, represent the future.  

Families come together each night to light one candle on the kinara that represent one of the seven special principles of Kwanzaa, which are: unity, self-determination, teamwork, sharing, purpose, creativity and faith. The black unity candle is always lit on the first night of Kwanzaa.  

How to Celebrate Kwanzaa with your Family  

  • Do a sing-along with our Sesame Street friends 
  • Create and decorate your home with Kwanzaa crafts like these examples 
  • Purchase gifts from black-owned businesses 
  • Volunteer as a family  
  • Attend a local or virtual celebration 

For more information on how to celebrate Kwanzaa, visit one of the resources below.