How Kwanzaa Works

By: Stephanie Watson  | 

What is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa celebration
Friends and family join hands to share Kwanzaa blessings before eating special dishes prepared by Maisie McNaught at her home in Miami Gardens, Florida. John VanBeekum/Miami Herald/MCT via Getty Images

Kwanzaa is a Pan-African holiday, meaning that it is meant to unite people of African descent, wherever in the world they live. It runs from December 26 through January 1. Unlike Christmas and Hanukkah, which are religious holidays, Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday (in fact, many people celebrate both Kwanzaa and Christmas). Over its seven days, people of African descent come together to celebrate family, community, culture and the bonds that tie them together as a people. They also remember their heritage, give thanks for the good things they have and rejoice in the goodness of life.

Seven is an important theme of Kwanzaa. The holiday lasts for seven days -- one day for each of its seven guiding principals. There are seven basic symbols used in the Kwanzaa ceremony -- one of which consists of seven candles -- and each symbol ties into one or more of the seven guiding principles.