By Marie Hoyer

A new holiday was established in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karanzaa in the United States. It is the first specific non- religious holiday to help African Americans reconnect to their heritage, traditions, and culture. It is known as Kwanzaa and is spreading to other countries.

This seven day holiday begins December 26 and ends January 1. The name “Kwanzaa” comes from the Swahili phrase “Matundaya Kwanza,” meaning “first fruits of the harvest.”

The seven days of Kwanzaa are represented by seven candles held in a candle holder known as a kinara, which is similar to a Jewish menorah. This symbolizes African roots and parent peoples.

The red, green, and black candles, Mishumaa Saba, represent the colors of the African flag, and also the seven principles of Kwanzaa. One candle is lit the first day, two the second, and so on until all seven candles are lit on January 1. The candles represent unity, self-determination, collective work, support, purpose, creativity, and faith.

The kinara is set upon a mat, mkeka, which symbolizes the foundation on which tradition and history is built. A unity cup, Kikombe Umojas, represents foundational principles and unity. Four other items are also set upon the mat. They are The Gifts, Zawadi, which are symbols of labor and love of parents plus commitments made and kept by children. Various fruits and vegetables are placed upon the mat to symbolize the crops or Mazao. These may be bananas, mangos, peaches, or other family favorites. They are shared and eaten to honor the people who raised them. A festive dinner, Karamu, is held for family and friends on December 31.