By EVPL Staff


The Kwanzaa holiday was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University, in 1966. After the Watts riot in Los Angeles in 1965, Dr. Karenga wanted to find a way to bring the African American community together to celebrate their ancestry, culture, and community. He researched various harvest celebrations in Africa and then combined several of those traditions into the Kwanzaa holiday. In fact, the word Kwanzaa translates to ‘first fruits’ in Swahili.

The holiday lasts over seven days from December 26 to January 1. Celebrations can include music, dancing, storytelling, and drums, with a feast on the final day. For each day, a candle is lit on the candleholder, called a Kinara, to represent one of the seven principles, or Nguzo Saba, of Kwanzaa.

Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

  • Umoja (Unity): Striving for and maintaining unity in the family, community, nation, and race
  • Kujichagulia (Self-determination): Defining, naming, creating, and speaking for oneself
  • Ujima (Collective work and responsibility): Working to build and maintain the community together
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative economics): Uplifting the community economically
  • Nia (Purpose): Setting personal goals to make the community strong
  • Kuumba (Creativity): Thinking of ways to express yourself and make the community and yourself better
  • Imani (Faith): Believing in the community, family, and yourself

Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Myers (above), 66th Air Base Wing noncommissioned officer in charge of the Military Equal Opportunity office, demonstrates a Kwanzaa ritual where she lights a candle in the Kinara. (Photo by Christopher Myers/U.S. Government)


If you would like to learn more about the history and traditions of Kwanzaa, EVPL has several titles for both adults and. Many of them include stories, crafts, recipes, and activities for families to enjoy.

Learn More

Kwanzaa: From Holiday to Everyday by Maitefa Angaza

Traditionally, Kwanzaa brings family, friends, and the community together for a winter celebration. But Kwanzaa can be a part of your life year-round. The 20 million people of African descent who celebrate this holiday steeped in cultural richness observe the holiday for its seven principles—principles that inspire the individual and promote community.

The Complete Kwanzaa: Celebrating Our Cultural Harvest by Dorothy Riley

A comprehensive guide that explains the traditional ceremonies, foods, and history of Kwanzaa. Offers an introduction to the cultural foundations of Kwanzaa, practical tips on how to tailor celebrations to individual circumstances, and directions on how to hold a Karamu feast, as well as recipes. Also includes an explanation of the 7 principles of Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa: a Celebration of Family, Community and Culture by Tamu Chambers

Provides an overview of Kwanzaa, discussing its historical and cultural background and suggesting activities for family and community.

Kid’s Titles

My Family Celebrates Kwanzaa by Lisa Bullard

Kwanzaa traces its origins to the American Civil Rights era. Critical thinking questions and fast facts prompt young readers to engage with this fun narrative and learn all about Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa by Julie Murray

Kwanzaa is an important holiday that celebrates African heritage and African-American culture. Readers will learn that African Americans celebrate this holiday with gift-giving, lighting Kinara candles each day, a big feast, and much more. Complete with simple text and colorful photographs.

Celebrate Kwanzaa by Carolyn Otto

Celebrate Kwanzaa continues the spectacular Holidays Around the World series by focusing on this African-American holiday, which falls during the festive, gift-giving season and is celebrated by families, communities, and schools throughout America. With succinct, lively text, and beautiful photographs, the book celebrates African-American culture and helps us to understand and appreciate this special holiday.

Seven Spools of Thread: a Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis

In an African village live seven brothers who make family life miserable with their constant fighting. When their father dies, he leaves an unusual will: by sundown, the brothers must make gold out of seven spools of thread. If they fail, they will be turned out as beggars. Using the Nguzo Saba, or “seven principles” of Kwanzaa, the author has created an unforgettable story that shows how family members can pull together, for their own good and the good of the entire community

Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa by Donna Washington

L’il Rabbit searches for a gift for his grandmother when she is sick during Kwanzaa, and surprises her with the best gift of all. Includes The Nguzo Saba – The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa.

The Sound of Kwanzaa by Dimitrea Tokunbo

Hear the words, sing the songs, dance to the beat, and shout “Harambee!” as you jump into this joyful celebration of the sounds of Kwanzaa!

EVPL Staff

EVPL Staff

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