Learn how you can celebrate the cooperative values of the holiday this year.
During the month of December, many of us celebrate Christmas in a variety of ways. But there are lots of other holidays this month as well—including Kwanzaa!
Kwanzaa is observed from December 26 to January 1 and is described by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture as “an African American and Pan-African holiday that celebrates history, values, family, community and culture.”
As you read this post, if you like the sound of celebrating Kwanzaa, we’ll end with ways you can get involved and celebrate right here in Colorado… and beyond.
Seven Days, Seven Principles
Much of the holiday honors collective values and cooperation—ideals like working together and sharing what we have. Each day of Kwanzaa celebrates one of seven principles drawn from communitarian values found throughout Africa:
- Umoja (unity)
- Kujichagulia (self-determination)
- Ujima (collective work and responsibility)
- Ujamaa (cooperative economics)
- Nia (purpose)
- Kuumba (creativity)
- Imani (faith)
There are also seven Kwanzaa symbols that represent aspects of African culture:
- Mkeka (the mat) – A placemat that symbolizes the historical and traditional foundation for one’s life
- Kikombe cha Umoja (the unity cup) – The unity cup that represents family and community
- Mazao (the crops) – The fruits and vegetables of Kwanzaa, which might include plantains, mangoes and bananas
- Vibunzi (ear of corn) – A representation of fertility and hope that children bring to a family’s life
- Mishumaa Saba (the seven candles) – A symbol of the sun’s power, colored to represent the African gods
- Kinara (the candleholder) – A representation of African ancestors
- Zawadi (gifts) – Meaningful gifts to encourage growth, achievement, self-determination and success
Learning About Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa has a rich history that stretches back to its creation in 1966. Today, it is celebrated in the United States as well as countries with large numbers of descendants of Africans.
A great way to honor Kwanzaa is to take the time to learn about it! Here are some great ways to start.
Read About Kwanzaa’s Founding
Learn about the first day of the first Kwanzaa and its founder’s goal of uniting the US’s African American community with a nonreligious holiday.
Learn More About the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa
We mentioned them above, but Kwanzaa’s seven principles are really what define the holiday. Every day of Kwanzaa, families light a candle for that day’s principle and many even highlight sayings or writings of great Black thinkers and writers. Look to the Smithsonian’s suggestions for inspiration.
Take Time to Understand the Symbolism
The seven symbols of Kwanzaa each represent values and concepts that reflect African culture, but there’s a lot behind this meaning. History.com does an excellent dive into what these mean and how they are a part of the traditional Kwanzaa celebration.
Celebrate and Discover African American Culture
Kwanzaa celebrations happen in homes and communities around the country. If you have the opportunity to attend an event like Kuumba Cultural Collective of Southern Colorado’s upcoming week-long celebration in Colorado Springs (their 33rd annual), you should! The Denver Public Library’s virtual Kwanzaa experience is also worth exploring.
But there are other ways to honor the principles of Kwanzaa. Here are a few ideas.
Attend African-Inspired Events
Nationwide events like the infamous, long-running Spirit of Kwanzaa production put on by the Dance Institute of Washington serve to celebrate Kwanzaa with dance, music and word performances.
While the Front Range of Colorado doesn’t offer an event quite like that, we do have the award-winning Cleo Parker Robinson Dance studio, which regularly hosts performances that honor African American heritage and unite people of all ages and races (view their upcoming events).
In February 2023, head up to Colorado State University to check out the Black/African American Cultural Center’s program for Black History Month—here’s a look at last year’s agenda (2022).
Explore One of Denver’s Oldest Neighborhoods
Five Points is Denver’s historically Black neighborhood and has a rich and interesting history as a sanctuary for the African American community. You’ll find a lot of culture there, with an annual Jazz Festival, Juneteenth Music Festival and a pop-up marketplace in the warmer months.
Although COVID made Kwanzaa celebrations challenging the last few years, 2021 included a 55th anniversary parade and other entertainment. Regardless of whether there’s an official celebration or not, Five Points is worth visiting for a night of live music, a delicious meal at one of the many restaurants or a self-guided walking tour.
Visit Local African American Institutions
The Denver metro area is home to two important resources of information about African-American history. The Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library is a great place to learn about African Americans who settled the West and their many accomplishments and contributions. The Black American West Museum and Heritage Center tells the stories of early African Americans who came West to become miners, soldiers, homesteaders, ranchers, blacksmiths, teachers, lawmen and more.
And in fall 2022, the University of Colorado Boulder opened a Center for African and African American Studies inside CU’s Macky Auditorium. The new center is already introducing programs and events—and more is coming in 2023. (For more information, check out their latest newsletter).
Try Traditional Kwanzaa Foods
Taste of Home has a delicious list of foods that might be found at a traditional Kwanzaa feast. Try making a few at home!
Not much of a cook? Support a local African restaurant and get a taste for the cuisine. (Editor’s note: If you haven’t ever eaten Ethiopian food, it is absolutely delicious. Be ready to eat with your hands, using spongy injera bread to scoop up these scrumptious morsels and stews.)
The Denver/Boulder metro area and Fort Collins have a number of long-standing African restaurants, coffee shops and cafes. Head to Yelp or TripAdvisor for help finding one.
It’s About Community
Kwanzaa is an opportunity to learn more about African American history and culture. As with other holidays observed around the world, Kwanzaa is really about bringing people and communities together. And that in and of itself is worth celebrating!