You don’t have to be black to understand how Kwanzaa works.
All it takes is a kind heart and an open mind willing to learn the history of the holiday that celebrates African-American culture.
Here’s some common Kwanzaa knowledge everyone should know.
You can spell it Kwanzaa or Kwanza
Regardless, it’s still pronounced “kwahn-zuh.” You can listen to this nice man say it here.
The name comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits.”
But don’t assume every black person speaks Swahili
Don’t even assume just the black people who celebrate Kwanzaa speak Swahili. (I’m emphasizing the “black people who celebrate Kwanzaa” part because not all of us celebrate Kwanzaa.)
Maulana Karenga, the professor who created the holiday in 1966, chose Swahili as the holiday’s language because it’s one that isn’t defined by a particular African region or tribe.
And it’s not a Hanukkah knockoff
Yes, it seems a little similar at first. Hanukkah is eight days. Kwanzaa is seven. The Jewish holiday involves a menorah. Kwanzaa lights a kinara. But they both have their own histories, so please don’t try to compare them.
Kwanzaa is always from December 26 to January 1. Each day is dedicated to the Nguzo Saba, also known as the seven principles.
The kinara holds seven candles, one black, three red and three green, which represent the people, the struggle and the future. They also represent the seven principles: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba) and faith (imani).
You can celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa
They’re not mutually exclusive. Karenga wanted Kwanzaa to be a nonreligious holiday for African-American families to come together and celebrate their ancestral roots. So you can have your merry Christmas and a happy Kwanzaa, too.
It’s OK to be excited for the feast
If your Christmas dinner wasn’t to your liking, Kwanzaa gives you another try to get it right. December 31 marks the day Kwanzaa celebrants come together for a feast known as Karamu. It usually includes different steps, such as a welcome, remembrance, rejoicing and a farewell.
Just don’t think it’s an extension of more gift giving
That’s not what Kwanzaa is about. While the last day of Kwanzaa focuses on gift giving, the presents are usually homemade rather than store-bought. They share values and beliefs around African-American heritage.
Kwanzaa doesn’t discriminate
Clearly it’s a holiday created for African-Americans. But just like people other than Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayo, other races and ethnic groups are welcome to participate in the Kwanzaa rituals.