Happy holidays! The holidays are in full swing and before the new year, we’re taking all occasions to celebrate.
While this season can often devolve into a capitalist parade of presents and social media flexing, there are bright spots that help us get back to what actually matters.
These are the quieter, less glamorous moments of true connection — watching young relatives beam with joy at the spread left by Santa Claus, moments of catching up over coffee, snuggling under a pile of blankets at the end of the night, or gathering to cook and eat a warm, hearty meal together. For me, it’s watching a movie by the fire with all my siblings and annoying each other with our incessant commentary.
It’s in these moments — with the TikTok app closed and the phone ringer off — we recall what the holidays are about. And Kwanzaa is a holiday that is built to remind us.
Kwanzaa begins on December 26th and runs until January 1st and was created as part of the diasporic tradition to celebrate the African and Pan-African communities. The initial Kwanzaa was started in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga — now chairman of Black Studies at California State University — as a way to nurture the cultural connection between African-Americans and traditions from the African continent.
To signify this, the word Kwanzaa is Swahili for the first harvest. Each day is dedicated to one of seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
Each day, you light one of the seven candles on the kinara, which is similar to the Hanukkah menorah, but in the colors red, black, and green.
Crucial to the Pan-African tradition, these colors have meaning too: red to represent blood — that which has been spilled and also that which connects the community; black to represent Black people; then green to signify the earth and the harvest.
All of this comes together to create a culturally rich holiday that helps bring celebrants back to their values. And — as a lover of presents myself — I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the gift-giving aspect.
The last day of Kwanzaa — January 1st — is celebrated with gifts amongst the family. In the spirit of the holiday, these gifts represent the principles of the season.
Here are a few of our picks to deck out yourself, your family, and your home in Kwanzaa-ready gear:
A true appreciation of the holiday must begin with an understanding of it. This book offers the historical, cultural, and community background on the making of Kwanzaa, why it was necessary, and why it’s still valuable today. For a deeper appreciation of Kwanzaa’s roots, look no further than this Keith A. Mayes text.
Kwanzaa: 7 Principles, Celebration, Decorations, Traditions, and Symbols: A Kwanzaa Book for Kids by L.A. Amber.
For the little ones, this picture book uses vivid colors and images to illustrate all the different aspects of this holiday tradition. From explaining the principles and traditions to showing the symbols and suggesting decoration ideas, this fun book helps kids appreciate the importance of community and culture.
Show your holiday pride — and help everyone remember the seven principles — with this bold t-shirt. Adorned with the Swahili names for the principles, you’re sure to stay grounded and reminded of Kwanzaa values all season long. It comes in a variety of colors so you can show off your style while showing that you sure know your stuff.
As with many holidays, delicious food is a huge part of Kwanzaa traditions. But equally important is the communal act of gathering. This runner has an earthy design that will make your table settings look distinctive while reminding you of the central principles as you eat.
Deck your whole house out with African prints this Kwanzaa! The holiday was formed to help connect people of the diaspora to their African roots, and one way to do so is to discover African aesthetics. From different traditional prints to classic colors, these curtains liven up your home and inspire a greater understanding and appreciation of the vast array of cultures present on the continent.
Above all, Kwanzaa is about learning and growing together. This book makes the case for carrying the principles into your everyday life and gives insight into how you can do it.
This year, maybe make practicing Kwanzaa and its values one of your new year’s resolutions. One thing’s for sure, your bookshelf or coffee table will be full after this holiday season!