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The History of Kwanzaa

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Kwanzaa, a seven-day celebration of African culture, was started in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University. Celebrated from December 26 through January 1, Kwanzaa, which means "first fruits of the harvest" in the African language Kiswahili, is meant to honor African heritage as well as present day life in America.

Contrary to popular belief, Kwanzaa is not a substitute for Christmas. It is a time for families to join together and pledge their commitment to fully participating in and contributing to American society, and a time to unify black Americans as a people.

Kwanzaa is based on seven principles called "Nguzo Saba": unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. During each day of Kwanzaa, one of these principles is celebrated, through gifts that reinforce the daily principle and through a daily candle lighting of the kinara. Typical gifts include books written by and about Africans, cultural and educational toys, and crafts and dolls. The kinara, a seven-branch candelabra, consists of one black, three red and three green candles, symbolizing unity, bloodshed and freedom respectively.

Kwanzaa culminates in a big feast on the last evening of the holiday, on December 31. Called Karamu, it is celebrated with festive songs, dance, toasts, prayers, and a feast of foods.

Happy Kwanzaa!

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