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What do the 7 candles in Kwanzaa stand for?

What do the 7 candles in Kwanzaa stand for?

Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday that celebrates family, community, and culture. It was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga and is celebrated from December 26th to January 1st each year. One of the key symbols of Kwanzaa are the seven candles in the kinara, which is a seven-branched candelabra. Each candle represents one of the seven principles (Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa and is lit on a different day of the celebration.

The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba, were developed by Dr. Karenga and serve as the foundational values of Kwanzaa. They emphasize building and reinforcing community among African Americans. The seven principles are:

  1. Umoja (Unity): To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define and create for oneself and one’s community.
  3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.
  4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, 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 always do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
  7. Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

These seven principles correspond to the seven candles of the kinara and represent values to strive for throughout the year, not just during Kwanzaa.

The Seven Candles

The seven candles in the kinara each represent one of the principles of Kwanzaa. Here is what each candle symbolizes:

Candle Principle Meaning
Black candle Umoja (Unity) Unity of family, community, nation, and race
Red candle Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) Defining and creating for oneself and community
Green candle Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) Building community together and solving problems together
Red candle Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) Building businesses and profiting together
Yellow candle Nia (Purpose) Restoring the community to greatness
Green candle Kuumba (Creativity) Leaving the community more beautiful than inherited
Red candle Imani (Faith) Believing in our people, parents, leaders

The black candle is lit on the first day, December 26. Then each day after, another candle is lit starting from left to right. By December 31, all seven candles are glowing to bring in the new year.

Lighting the Candles Each Night

The lighting of the candles follows a particular schedule over the seven days of Kwanzaa. Here is the schedule:

Day Candle Lit Principle Honored
December 26 Black Umoja (Unity)
December 27 Red Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
December 28 Green Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
December 29 Red Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
December 30 Yellow Nia (Purpose)
December 31 Green Kuumba (Creativity)
January 1 Red Imani (Faith)

On each night, the corresponding candle is lit usually accompanied by discussions, cultural performances, food, or other activities celebrating that principle.


The seven candles of the Kwanzaa kinara represent the Nguzo Saba, the seven guiding principles of the celebration. Lighting each candle over the seven nights reinforces the values of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. These principles reflect Kwanzaa’s emphasis on community building, culture, and heritage. The glowing candles serve as a symbolic reminder to strive for these ideals all year round, not just during the holiday season.