Kwanzaa Celebration


Ashay! Welcome to the Africana, Asian American, Chicano, & Native American Studies Center’s Kwanzaa celebration. Kwanzaa is a time when we come together as friends, family, and community. Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, is credited with originating the celebration in 1966 by combining customs from various East African harvest ceremonies in order to introduce Africans/African Americans and others to African values, customs and traditions, and to promote unity within the African/African American community.

Here at SJSU, in late December when finals are completed and we’re about to depart to be with our families to rest, rejuvenate, and celebrate the holiday season, the Africana, Asian American, Chicano Native American Studies Center hosts a pre-Kwanzaa celebration in which we recognize the seven principles of unity. For over 10 years, Dr. David Piper, a member of the AAACNA Advisory Board, and his colleagues from Jaliya, a drumming group, have led this celebration for the San Jose community in the AAACNA Center.

We present this recording of a Kwanzaa celebration led by Dr. Piper at Mission College in Santa Clara. We share it with you in hopes that you will take the time to reflect on the aesthetics of Kwanzaa. Enjoy the video and remember to stop by next year to celebrate our community feast! Let us give thanks. — Kathryn Blackmer Reyes, Director of the AAACNA Studies Center


Customary Greeting

Habari gani. Habari gani ndugu? (How are you, friend?) 
Kukaribisha. (Welcome.) 

Both phrases are Swahili words originating in Dutch colonized parts of East Africa (Alkebu-lan — Mother of Humankind).

Ntoo mu Amadou Bamba le ti. (My name is Amadou Bamba, in the Mandinka language from the Mali community.)

Kwanzaa Rituals

Kwanzaa is celebrated through rituals, dialogue, narratives, poetry, dancing, singing, drumming and other music, and feasting. The Celebration takes place from December 26 to January 1. It is centered around the Nguzo Saba (the Seven Principals), the fundamental values found in the practice of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

Kwanzaa is a celebration of life emanating from the concept of Kawaida, a philosophy of cultural and social change, defining culture as the most important component in the positive development of people.

Marcus Garvey, quoting Charles Siefert in 1938, said, “A people that do not know their own history and culture are like a tree without roots.”

The name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" meaning "first fruits.”

The Five Fundamental Activities

Five fundamental activities of Kwanzaa


  • The gathering of family, friends, and community.
  • Reverence for the Elders and Ancestors.
  • Commemoration of the past, learning lessons and emulating achievements of Africans/African American historical figures.
  • Recommitment to the highest cultural ideals, such as truth, justice, respect for people and nature, and caring for the vulnerable.
  • Celebration of the “Good of Life.”

It has been celebrated for more than 50 years by people who have a sense of humanness and an understanding of the importance of existence. The focus is primarily on Africans/African Americans and their contributions to humanity.


The celebration uses a variety of symbols that represent its spirit and focus:

  • a Mkeka, straw mat on which all other objects are placed
  • the Kinara (candle holder), which holds seven candles, three red, three green, and one black, which represent the ancestral stock from which Africans/African Americans came
  • ears of corn representing children in the house or the community
  • Kikombe, the unity cup that is used to pour libations for each family member
  • cultural gifts
  • on December 31st, an African feast.

January 1st is dedicated to reflection on human life and purpose and the values of African/African American culture.

Marcus Garvey gave us the colors used for the candles in the Kinara. Black is for black people, red is for struggle, and green is for the future and the promise that comes from struggle. The celebration calls for the gathering of people to reaffirm the bonds of family and friends, to commemorate the past and pay deference to the creator. This year has been one that has challenged all of us. The nation as a whole could benefit from the practice of the seven principles. 

“The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.” – Wade Davis