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Kwanzaa: Seven Principles to Honor African Heritage

Kwanzaa is an annual celebration observed from December 26 to January 1 by people of African descent who want to honor their heritage. 

Celebrated mostly in the United States, Kwanzaa celebrations are also popular in Canada, the Caribbean and other parts of the African Diaspora.

Through seven principles, the celebration of Kwanzaa, participants honor their heritage as people of African descent who lost a great deal of their heritage through enslavement.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 as an African-American holiday by Maulana Karenga.

Karenga"s purpose for establishing Kwanzaa was 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 dominate society."

The meaning of the name Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means the first fruits of the harvest.

Although East African nations were not involved in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, Karenga"s decision to use a Swahili term to name the celebration is symbolic of the popularity of Pan-Africanism.

As the Civil Rights Movement transitioned into black nationalism in the late 1960s, men such as Karenga were searching for ways to reconnect African-Americans with their heritage.

In 1997, Karenga stated in the text Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday." Instead, Karenga argued, the purpose of Kwanzaa was to study Nguzu Saba, which were the seven principles of African Heritage.

The celebration of Kwanzaa includes an acknowledgment and honoring of its seven principles, known as Nguzu Saba. These principles include:

Symbols of Kwanzaa include:

Kwanzaa ceremonies typically include drumming and varied musical selections that honor African ancestry, a reading of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness. These readings are followed often by a lighting of candles, a performance, and a feast, known as a karamu.

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