Kwanzaa is an African American holiday that was created by Maulana Karenga, an authority on African studies. It was first celebrated from December 26 through January 1, 1967, in Los Angeles, California, and Kwanzaa continues to be celebrated annually at that time of year as a Black holiday embraced by millions of African Americans. Kwanzaa was inspired by the agricultural African people who gathered and celebrated annually at harvest time, but it currently is designed to meet the needs of African Americans living in the United States. It makes a cultural and political statement, providing an alternative to Christmas and the associated commercialism and emphasis on expensive gift giving during that holiday season.

Kwanzaa gives African Americans an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history with gifts, mainly gifts given to children to acknowledge commitments made and kept. Children have always been at the core of Kwanzaa in light of how they influenced the spelling of the word; the original Swahili word kwanza means “first fruits,” but adding the extra a meant there were seven letters to represent the seven children at the first Kwanzaa program. The result is more than merely a word, allowing Kwanzaa to convey a distinct identity and holiday.

Kwanzaa also was made a 7-day holiday to establish and promote the Nguzo Saba: the seven basic principles that serve as the central focus of Kwanzaa and provide a Black value system. These seven principles are as follows:

  1. Umoja (Unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race
  2. Kujichagulia (Self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves instead of being defined, named, and created for and spoken for by others
  3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our sisters’ and brothers’ problems our problems and to solve them together
  4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)—To build and maintain our own stores and other businesses and to profit from them together
  5. Nia (Purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness
  6. Kuumba (Creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than it was when we inherited it
  7. Imani (Faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, and our leaders in the righteousness and victory of our struggle

There is no holiday named Kwanzaa that is practiced on the African continent, nor is there one that uses the distinct symbols, practices, or principles associated with Kwanzaa. Instead, Kwanzaa is a distinct African American holiday designed to respond to the social conditions in which African Americans lived in the 1960s, while underscoring the cultural unity among all African descendants. The seven Nguzo Saba principles continue to represent a powerful acknowledgment of and response to the sociopolitical reality in which people of African descent live in the United States. These principles also constitute a paradigm and Africentric world-view upon which mental health professionals may draw when designing culturally relevant and appropriate research and interventions for African Americans.


  1. Karenga, M. (1988). Black studies and the problematic paradigm. Journal of Black Studies, 18, 395—114.
  2. Karenga, M. (1994). Maat, the moral ideal in ancient Egypt: A study in classical African ethics. Los Angeles: University of Southern California.
  3. Karenga, M. R. (1965). Kwanzaa: Origin, concepts, practice. Los Angeles: Kawaida.
  4. Karenga, M. R. (1988). The African American holiday of Kwanzaa. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press.

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