Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration held in the United States and in other nations of the Western African diaspora in the Americas. “Kwanzaa” is derived from Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means “fresh fruits” or “first fruits,” and is used in relation to the first harvest of the year. The celebration honors African heritage in African-American culture, and is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a feast and gift-giving. Kwanzaa has seven core principles (Nguzo Saba). It was created by Maulana Karenga and was first celebrated in 1966–67.
Kwanzaa is different in that it’s not a religious holiday - it’s a cultural celebration. Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba—the seven principles of African Heritage), which Karenga said "is a communitarian African philosophy," consisting of what Karenga called "the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world." These seven principles comprise *Kawaida, a Swahili word meaning "common". Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles, as follows:
Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Kwanzaa celebratory symbols include a mat (Mkeka) on which other symbols are placed: a Kinara (candle holder), Mishumaa Saba (seven candles) mazao (crops), Muhindi (corn), a Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) for commemorating and giving shukrani (thanks) to African Ancestors, and Zawadi (gifts). Supplemental representations include a Nguzo Saba poster, the black, red, and green bendera (flag), and African books and artworks - all to represent values and concepts reflective of African culture and contribution to community building and reinforcement.
It’s not widely celebrated in Africa. The holiday was created in, and is celebrated almost entirely in, the United States, where an estimated 18 million observe it in some way. Although in recent years, it’s been publicly acknowledged with celebrations in Jamaica, London, Toronto, and Paris.