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What does each Kwanzaa candle represent?

What does each Kwanzaa candle represent?

Kwanzaa is an African American holiday that celebrates African heritage and culture. It is celebrated from December 26th to January 1st, and culminates in a communal feast called Karamu. An important part of Kwanzaa celebrations is the kinara, which holds seven candles that represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Each night during Kwanzaa, a candle is lit to honor one of these principles.

The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

The seven principles, known as the Nguzo Saba in Swahili, were established by the creator of Kwanzaa, Dr. Maulana Karenga. They are values that Dr. Karenga believed African Americans should cultivate in order to build and reinforce their communities. The principles are:

  • Umoja (Unity)
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
  • Nia (Purpose)
  • Kuumba (Creativity)
  • Imani (Faith)

Each night during Kwanzaa, families come together to light a candle representing one of these principles. The candles are arranged in a special candleholder called a kinara, which typically sits on a mat along with crops and symbols of African culture. Read on to learn about the meaning and symbolism behind each candle.

The Black Candle

The black candle sits in the center of the kinara and is lit on the first night of Kwanzaa. It is called the Umoja (Unity) candle and represents the first principle of unity.

Lighting this candle brings focus to the foundational concept of unity, or being united in purpose, during Kwanzaa. It reminds celebrants of the importance of togetherness among African Americans as well as the larger African diaspora across the world. The concept of unity promotes harmony and agreement, both within families and communities.

The Umoja candle reminds us that when we stand together and support one another, we are stronger. Unity helps build and sustain community, which has always been an essential part of African and African American culture.

The Red Candles

There are three red candles on the kinara which represent the following principles:

  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
  • Kuumba (Creativity)


The self-determination candle is lit on the second day of Kwanzaa. This principle encourages people of African descent to determine their own identity, destiny, and shape their own lives rather than allowing societal limitations to determine it for them.

Historically, African people have faced oppression, discrimination, and limitations on their rights. The principle of self-determination speaks to embracing our human rights and defining ourselves. It is about taking control of one’s life and path.

Lighting the self-determination candle is a call to action – to set goals and work towards them in the coming year. It is a reminder that we have the power to shape the future and our destiny lies in our own hands if we have the courage to pursue it.

Cooperative Economics

The cooperative economics candle, also known as the Ujamaa candle, is lit on the third day. This principle emphasizes building and supporting businesses within the black community to establish economic strength and independence.

In Swahili, Ujamaa means “extended family” and refers to the idea that people should cooperate economically to support each other and build up the community. This concept encourages buying from and investing in black-owned businesses to help money circulate within the community.

Lighting the Ujamaa candle is a reminder of the power of a dollar and the importance of harnessing that power to enrich African American communities. It represents the potential for economic prosperity when people work cooperatively.


The creativity candle, or Kuumba candle, is lit on the sixth day of Kwanzaa. Creativity is vital to a vibrant, thriving culture. This principle celebrates the innate creativity within all people.

African culture is known for its artistry, craftsmanship, and expressiveness. The lighting of the Kuumba candle honors these creative traditions as well as the ability to shape and improve our communities through creative action.

This candle reminds us that we all have unique talents and gifts that can be used creatively to leave a positive legacy for future generations. It calls on people to find constructive ways to apply their creativity each day.

The Green Candles

There are three green candles on the kinara which represent:

  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
  • Nia (Purpose)
  • Imani (Faith)

Collective Work and Responsibility

The collective work and responsibility candle, also called the Ujima candle, is lit on the fourth day of Kwanzaa. Ujima emphasizes the importance of working together to solve problems and build a strong community.

This principle reflects the longstanding African tradition of mutual support and uplift. Lighting the Ujima candle is a reminder that we must help our brothers and sisters in need and take responsibility for uplifting our people and community.

It represents a commitment to active participation and contribution. Ujima tells us that we are collectively responsible for each other and our community’s welfare.


The Nia candle is lit on the fifth day and represents having and cultivating a sense of purpose in life.

Nia encourages us to set goals for ourselves and our community that will leave a positive impact. It speaks to developing plans of action and committing ourselves to building our future.

The lighting of the purpose candle reminds us to be intentional in what we do. It is a time to think about legacy – how our lives and work can make a difference for future generations. This principle motivates and drives progress.


Faith, or Imani, is the last principle honored with the lighting of the final candle on the seventh day. The faith candle represents believing in ourselves, our families, our leaders, and the righteousness of the African American struggle.

This principle connects to the role of faith in African culture as well as the civil rights movement. Imani encourages spiritual cultivation and strength. It reminds us to believe in and hope for justice, equality, and freedom.

Lighting the Imani candle reaffirms faith in the people, the future, and in the possibility of a better society. It instills hope that vision becomes reality.


Kwanzaa provides a unique opportunity to connect with African heritage and reflect on culturally-grounded principles that can strengthen individuals and communities. The kinara and its candles represent values that are meaningful and relevant today just as they were when Kwanzaa was established in 1966.

Lighting each candle over the seven nights of Kwanzaa sparks discussion about these principles and inspires people to find ways to integrate them into their lives all year long. The candles’ meanings reveal something profound about human needs – for unity, self-determination, cooperative economics, collective responsibility, purpose, creativity, and faith.

Illuminating these candles connects us to the past and lights a path forward. The ritual reminds us where we’ve come from and motivates us towards the future with shared principles to guide the way.

Candle Color Principle Meaning
Black Umoja Unity
Red Kujichagulia Self-Determination
Red Ujamaa Cooperative Economics
Red Kuumba Creativity
Green Ujima Collective Work and Responsibility
Green Nia Purpose
Green Imani Faith

As families and communities come together to light the kinara each evening, these candles remind us of shared heritage, ideals, and vision. Their light guides us on the collective journey to build a future of promise, purpose, and hope.