How Kwanzaa Works

By: Stephanie Watson  | 

The Holiday Feast

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

On December 31, observers hold a great feast, or Kwanzaa Karamu. The feast is about more than food -- it also is a forum for cultural expression that includes music, dance and readings.

A typical program for a Kwanzaa Karamu might look something like this:


  • Kukaribisha (Welcoming) - Introduction and welcome, followed by music, dancing, poetry and other performances
  • Kuumba (Remembering) - Cultural reflections
  • Kuchunguza Tena Na Kutoa Ahadi Tena (Reassessment and Recommitment) - A short speech by a guest lecturer
  • Kushangilla (Rejoicing) - Reading of the libation statement, followed by a communal drink from the Unity Cup and the reading of the names of black ancestors and heroes, followed by a meal
  • Tamshi la tutaonan (Farewell Statement) - The reading of a farewell statement accompanied by a call for greater unity

The food served during Kwanzaa is a blend of Caribbean, African and South American flavors. Some popular dishes are fried okra, plantains, fried chicken, black bean soup, baked ham and gumbo. A large mat (Mkeka) is placed in the center of the room, and all of the food is prominently displayed on it.

For more information on Kwanzaa and related topics, check out the links below.

Kwanzaa FAQ

What religion is Kwanzaa?
Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious one, so Africans of all faiths join in the festivities.
What is eaten during Kwanzaa?
The Kwanzaa feast is held on the evening of December 31. In the spirit of the holiday, dishes should be inclusive, which means an abundance of veggie options and no prohibited foods that might "exclude" people. The meal features a blend of Caribbean, African, and South American flavors with popular dishes like fried okra, plantains, fried chicken, black bean soup, baked ham, and gumbo served up and shared.
What is celebrated during Kwanzaa?
During Kwanzaa, Africans celebrate family, community, culture, and the bonds that tie them together. They also remember their heritage, give thanks for the good things they have, and rejoice in the goodness of life.
When is Kwanzaa?
Kwanzaa runs every year from December 26 to January 1 of the next year.
What are the seven principles of Kwanzaa?
The principles are: • Unity (Umoja): Joining together as a family, community, and race • Self-determination (Kujichagulia): Responsibility for one's own future • Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima): Building the community together and solving problems as a group • Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa): Community building and profiting from its own businesses • Purpose (Nia): The goal of working together to build community and further the African culture • Creativity (Kuumba): Using new ideas to create a more beautiful and successful community • Faith (Imani): Honoring African ancestors and traditions, and celebrating past triumphs over adversity
What does Kwanzaa mean?
The word "kwanzaa" comes from the Swahili phrase, "matunda ya kwanza," which translates to "first fruits."

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More Great Links


  • The Children's Book of Kwanzaa: A Guide to Celebrating the Holiday, by Dolores Johnson
  • Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, by Maulana Karenga
  • Kwanzaa Crafts, by Judith Hoffman Corwin
  • My First Kwanzaa Book, by Deborah M. Newton Chocolate
  • Seven Candles for Kwanzaa, by Andrea Davis Pinkney
  • Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, by Angela Shelf Medearis
  • The Gifts of Kwanzaa, by Synthia Saint James


  • Collier, Aldore. "The Man who Invented Kwanzaa," Ebony, January 1998, pages 116-118.
  • Copage, Eric V. Kwanzaa: An African-American Celebration of Culture and Cooking. New York, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991.
  • Everything About Kwanza
  • Harris, Jessica B. A Kwanzaa Keepsake. New York, New York: Fireside, 1995.
  • Kwanzaa Information Center
  • The Official Kwanzaa Web Site
  • Winchester, Faith. African-American Holidays. Mankato, Minnesota: Bridgestone Books, 1996.