KWANZAA is a weeklong African holiday typically celebrated in the United States, lasting from December 26 until January 1.

The celebration originated in 1966 by Professor Maulana Karenga.

What is Kwanzaa?

Maulana Karenga is a professor of African studies at Long Beach's California State University.

He's both an activist and author, whose influence on African-American culture has been widely celebrated.

The name Kwanzaa originates from a Swahili phrase: "matunda ya kwanza." Kwanza is Swahili means "first."

When Karenga created the holiday, he added an extra "A" to the word Kwanzaa. He wanted to "give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society," according to the Brookhaven Courier.

The holiday is a response to the Los Angeles 1965 Watts Riots, as a way to bring African-Americans together.

Although Kwanzaa originated in the United States, the holiday is often celebrated in other countries, especially within the Caribbean.

Kwanzaa is not meant to be political or religious, and isn't meant to be considered a Christmas replacement.

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How is Kwanzaa celebrated?

There are seven principles that are celebrated over the seven days of Kwanzaa: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani).

Along with the the principle are seven symbols: fruits, vegetables, and nuts; a straw mat; a candleholder; ears of corn; gifts; a communal cup signifying unity; and seven candles in the African colours of red, green, and black, symbolizing the seven principles.

Each day, members of the family join each other to light one of the candles in the candleholder – a kinara – and discuss the principle of the day.

A community feast – the karamu – is celebrated on December 31.

During the feast, some dress in traditional African clothing.

Who is Maulana Karenga?

On July 14, 1941, Karenga was born in Parsonsburg, Maryland.

In 1959, he moved to Los Angeles with his brother and began attending Los Angeles City College.

While there, he was elected as the first Black student president, and participated in civil rights organizations Congress of Racial Equality and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

He went on to the University of California, Los Angeles, and got a Bachelor's and Master's degree in political science.

Karenga earned his first PhD in 1976, and another in 1994.

The activist and professor chaired the Africana Studies Department at California State University, Long Beach as of 2021.

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