Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday celebrated annually from December 26 to January 1. The holiday focuses on seven principles, one for each night of Kwanzaa. On each night, a candle is lit in a kinara (candle holder) to honor the principle of the day. The colors of the candles are red, green, and black – the colors of the Pan-African flag. The order and meaning behind lighting each candle is an important part of Kwanzaa celebrations.
Overview of Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a professor and activist, during the Black Freedom Movement. The name “Kwanzaa” comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits.” Karenga created Kwanzaa as a way for African Americans to celebrate their shared cultural heritage and values.
The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba, were developed based on African harvest festival traditions. Each principle represents values to strive toward in order to build and reinforce community. The principles are:
|Ujima||Collective Work and Responsibility|
Along with the seven principles, Kwanzaa celebrations also incorporate symbolic decorations, music, dancing, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal. The lighting of the kinara candles takes place each evening to honor that day’s principle.
The Candle Lighting Order and Meanings
The kinara holds seven candles – three red candles on the left, three green candles on the right, and one black candle in the center. On each night of Kwanzaa, the candles are lit from left to right to honor that day’s principle. Here is the order and meaning behind the candle lighting:
|Day||Candle Color||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||Green||Nia (Purpose)|
|December 31||Red||Kuumba (Creativity)|
|January 1||Green||Imani (Faith)|
December 26 – Umoja (Unity)
On the first day of Kwanzaa, the black candle representing the principle of Umoja, or unity, is lit. Umoja emphasizes togetherness, agreement, and oneness in the family and community. The black candle is lit first as a symbol of the rich black heritage of African Americans. Lighting this candle kicks off the Kwanzaa celebrations by bringing people together.
December 27 – Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
On the second day, the first red candle representing Kujichagulia, or self-determination, is lit. This principle focuses on defining, naming, and creating for oneself. It stresses the responsibility to speak and act for oneself, rather than be defined or spoken for by others. Lighting the red candle honors the freedom and responsibility to determine one’s own destiny.
December 28 – Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
The first green candle lit on the third day represents Ujima, or collective work and responsibility. Ujima emphasizes teamwork, coalition building, and the collective struggle to solve community problems and uplift each other. Lighting this green candle honors commitment to solving issues together.
December 29 – Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
On the fourth day, the second red candle representing Ujamaa, or cooperative economics, is lit. This principle focuses on building and maintaining black businesses and prosperity through collective economics and profit sharing. Lighting the candle honors black economic empowerment and cooperation in business.
December 30 – Nia (Purpose)
The second green candle lit on the fifth day represents Nia, or purpose. This principle emphasizes collectively defining and working toward positive goals that benefit the community, family, and future generations. Lighting the green candle honors cultivating and committing to shared goals.
December 31 – Kuumba (Creativity)
On the sixth day, the last red candle representing Kuumba, or creativity, is lit. Kuumba focuses on using creativity to leave communities more beautiful and beneficial than they were inherited. Lighting the red candle honors creative action to build the future.
January 1 – Imani (Faith)
On the final day, the last green candle representing Imani, or faith, is lit. Imani emphasizes belief in God, families, leaders, and the righteousness of the African American struggle. Lighting this candle honors maintaining faith in unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, and creativity.
The symbolic candle lighting ceremony during Kwanzaa honors African American heritage and seven essential principles for building and reinforcing community. Black candles represent African roots, red symbolizes the blood shed during the struggle for freedom, and green stands for the future. Lighting candles from left to right on the kinara each evening in a specific order connects Kwanzaa observers to the profound meaning behind each of the seven principles. The ritual reminds participants to reflect on these values year-round in order to embrace collective growth and empowerment.