The First Kwanzaa

U.S. #3175 was the first U.S. stamp issued for Kwanzaa.

The First Kwanzaa

On December 26, 1966, Maulana Karenga celebrated the first Kwanzaa.

In 1965, a deadly riot rocked a largely African-American neighborhood in Los Angeles, leaving 34 dead and 1,000 injured.  Professor of Black Studies and former activist Maulana Karenga was disturbed by the violence.  He wanted to help the African American community overcome the despair this riot, and ones like it, had caused.  Karenga was then inspired by the African harvest celebrations to establish his own non-religious holiday that would stress the importance of family and community.

U.S. #4373 – The seven robed figures represent the seven days and seven principles of Kwanzaa.

So, on December 26, 1966, Karenga led his community in celebrating the first Kwanzaa.  The name is taken from a phrase meaning “first fruits” in Swahili, an East African language.

With its fusion of ancient African practices and African-American ideals and aspirations, Kwanzaa is a non-denominational celebration.  It is seen as a time for the gathering of families, and for rededication to the seven principles of Nguzo Saba, a set of values as expressed by Karenga.

U.S. #4434 – Though Kwanzaa is rooted in African culture, people of all races and ethnicities are invited to celebrate.

The Kwanzaa principles are Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of these principles.

During each evening of the seven-day holiday, family members light one of the seven candles of the kinara (candleholder), and then discuss that day’s principle.  The first is the black candle in the center, which symbolizes African people everywhere.  Three red candles, representing the blood of ancestors, are on the left.  Three green candles, symbolizing the earth, life, and promise for the future, are on the right.

U.S. #4584 – Oprah, Maya Angelou, and Angelina Jolie celebrate Kwanzaa.

There are several items common to a Kwanzaa celebration that have special significance.  They are the mkeka, a straw mat symbolizing the earth; muhindi, ears of corn that symbolize offspring; zawadi, gifts symbolizing the parents’ work and the rewards of children; kinara, a seven-space candle holder, symbolizing the stalk from which the African people grew; and mishumaa saba, seven candles symbolizing the Seven Principles.

U.S. #4845 – Karenga hoped Kwanzaa would help “to constantly bring good into the world.”

Participants often exchange gifts. Near the end of the holiday, the community gathers for a feast called karamu, which may include performances, music, and dancing.

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14 responses to "The First Kwanzaa"

14 thoughts on “The First Kwanzaa”

  1. Oher people should celebrate there religeon.s!
    Like the Jewishh celebrate Hankkah.and Christmascelebrated
    by the Christians ,And Knownsa by African-Americans>

    Reply
  2. When I was first introduced to this idea several years ago, I was very apprehensive. After I understood its purpose and origin, I then became receptive to it. Although it is nondenominational, it definitely has overtones that are biblically based. That’s a good thing.

    Reply
  3. Thanks, Mystic for this informative article on Kwanzaa. I never knew exactly what Kwanzaa was and now I do. Happy Kwanzaa to everyone who celebrates. I hope you have a great Holiday and a prosperous New Year.

    Reply
  4. Thank you for this posting. Very informative and celebratory. I am an older white woman. Perhaps, one day, I can find an African-American family that would let me participate. Unity and celebration are part of this season. It does not matter what color you are or religion. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Oh Scott, Scott. To compare a holiday emphasizing family and dedication to certain human principles to established scientifically established conditions is , well, pathetic. Read a book, get a life.

    Reply
  6. I, likewise, never knew what Kwanzaa was all about. Whether a “real” holiday or not, what it represents is the celebration of principles and qualities that each one of us and our offsprings should strive for. It would make for a better place and most likely get some of the evil out of the world today. Also, “real” collectors would collect ANY stamp, regardless of theme.

    Reply

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