Kwanzaa celebrations vary from family to family. Some families stick with strictly Kwanzaa related practices, while other families mix elements of Kwanzaa into their Christmas celebrations. However, most Kwanzaa celebrations are based on Nguzo Saba – or the seven principles of Kwanzaa.
The Seven Principles:
Umoja (Unity): Striving for and maintaining unity in the family and the community.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): Defining oneself and speaking for oneself
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): Building and maintaining a community and making our brother’s and sister’s problems our own and solve them together
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): Building and maintaining our businesses for ourselves and each other
Nia (Purpose): To build and develop our collective communities together
Kuumba (Creativity): To do whatever we can to leave our communities more beautiful than when we inherited them
Imani (Faith): To believe with our hearts in our people, our families and the righteousness of our struggle
The Seven Symbols:
Kwanzaa celebrations usually include a special mat called a Mkeka in which all of the other symbols are placed. On this mate are placed a candle holder called a Kinara, seven candles which are collectively called Mishumaa Saba, mazao (fruits, nuts and vegetables), a unity cup called Kikombe cha Umoja, an ear of corn called Vibunzi and Zawadi or gifts.
The place mat, or Mkeka, is traditionally made from either straw or cloth. It symbolizes African history, tradition and culture. All of the other six elements are placed on the Mkeka.
Fruits, nuts and vegetables are laid out to represent the historical foundation for this holiday – the gathering of people after a harvest. It represents bounty, joy, sharing and allows people to give thanks for their gifts.
The Kinara, or candle holder, can be made of any material but is usually handcrafted from wood or other natural materials. This candle holder represents the ancestors and the mishumaa saba are placed in them to represent the principles of Kwanzaa – which rise from the ancestors.
The Mishumaa Saba
Mishumaa saba features seven candles. Three of them are red, three of them are green and one of them is black. The three red candles represent the principles of Ujamaa, Kuumba and Kujichagulia, and they are placed to the left of the green candles. The three green candles represent the principles of Ujima, Imani and Nia. The black candle symbolizes Umoja and is lit on December 26th.
Kikombe Cha Umoja
Kikombe cha umoja is a unity cup that is traditionally used to perform the ceremonious libation ritual, otherwise known as tambiko. This ritual is performed on the 6th day of Kwanzaa. In some African societies, the libation is poured for the living dead whose souls stay connected with the earth until it is tilled. During the Feast of Karamu, this unity cup is passed to family members and guests–all of whom drink from it to promote unity with one another. The next thing that happens is the eldest person pours a libation for the four winds (north, south, east and west). This last portion of the libation is reserved for the ancestors.
Vibunzi & Mihindi
Vibunzi is an ear of corn that is used to represent fertility. Vibunzi refers to one ear of corn. If more than one is present, then they are referred to as Mihindi. An ear is present for each child in the family. This is to show the importance of children to society and how they are the seed bearers of the culture into this future.
On the seventh day, gifts are exchanged with immediate family to reward accomplishments and commitments and is also exchanged with guests. It is recommended that these gifts are handmade to promote self-determination and to avoid the commercialism of the Christmas season. Accepting a gift makes the receiver an important part of the family and promotes the principle of Umoja – otherwise known as unity.