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Be honest — we often lump Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa all together when December gets close.

For those that don’t celebrate Kwanzaa, there’s sometimes confusion about what and who the holiday is really for.

Some even argue the validity of the holiday and people’s desire to recognize it as such.

Tonya Abari, freelance writer, and mom of two, recalled hearing that Kwanzaa was “made up” as a reason for others choosing not to celebrate.

Abari asserted that all holidays are made up in a way — and she has a point.

But, this doesn’t have to be a negative thing to recognize. In learning more about the origins of a holiday, we may get a better understanding of how it could align with our values.

Abari shared that she didn’t grow up celebrating Kwanzaa. In fact, she didn’t begin until she turned 30.

“When I had my own children, I decided that I wanted to introduce new traditions and the Ngubo Saba were principles that I could stand behind not only during the holiday season, but all year.”

Started in 1996, Kwanzaa is a holiday that’s the product of “creative cultural synthesis.”

The name comes from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” meaning first fruits, and is rooted in harvest celebrations found in cultures throughout African history.

Kwanzaa is meant for both Africans and African-Americans to collectively celebrate culture, community, history, and family.

Abari isn’t blind to the controversy surrounding the holiday’s founder, who was convicted in 1971 for violent crimes against women, but has chosen to focus on the tenants and what it means for her family rather than the individual.

“I felt that the tenets could be a strong basis for building a solid foundation with my own family,” she said.

Abari uses this opportunity to sit down with her family each year, discussing the meaning behind the principles. “For each of the days, we light the kinara and have a family discussion around what each day means,” she says.

During the week of celebration, the Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili) are followed, represented by seven candles lit on a holder, known as the kinara.

The candles, colored black, red, and green, serve as representation of the people of the African Diaspora — the struggle, and the hope for the future, respectively.

One candle is lit a day, each having separate meanings and calls to action.

When folks get together on each of these days, you can expect to see a range of celebratory activities, including singing and dancing, drumming, laughing, reading and writing, art making, alongside plenty of cooking and eating.


Umoja, is the first day, and stands for unity. This is a foundational principle for Nguzo Saba, and is meant to connect not only families, but differing generations and communities.


The second day, meaning self-determination, is the push for individuals to be grounded in their culture and have the ability to define who they are for themselves.

This looks like not only standing firmly in who you are today, but setting positive examples for the future.


The third candle is lit in honor of Ujima, translating to collective work and responsibility.

This urges Black communities to support one another in efforts, centering on the idea that helping your neighbor is effectively helping yourself.


Cooperative economics is the push towards Black communities being self-sufficient through supporting each other’s businesses.

Similar to the previous, this principle centers on collectivity and community, with a focus on financial gain and independence.

“During this week especially, we only patronize Black-owned businesses,” Abari says.


This day’s principle translates to purpose.

“For true greatness and growth never occur in isolation and at others’ expense,” the official Kwanzaa website reads, pulling at people being highly social creatures and how communication and community are necessary to our survival.

This principle uplifts the history of African people and their descendants and leaning into sharing that history with generations to come.


Day six of Kuumba, or creativity, means uplifting the different ways folks within the Black community shine.

The belief is that creativity is both a service to those around you and a source of spiritual restoration.

The goal is for the community to not only bask in its collective beauty, but become even more bountiful as time goes on.


The final principle translates to faith.

While the Nguzo Saba has ties to spirituality, this principle leans heavily into the idea of faith in your community, your history, and your people.

Not only is there a focus on where the African and African-American people have been in the past, but a belief in success for the future.

Kwanzaa is held during the end of December, coinciding with Christmas and other winter holidays.

Despite the similar dates on the calendar, it’s important to learn and analyze the history of the tenets created to uplift the Black community, as well as the less comfortable details about its originator.

Because it’s not one rooted in a particular religion, there are no rules against celebrating alongside another holiday.

In the Abari household, they welcome traditions connected to both Christmas and Kwanzaa, welcoming gift-giving but being intentional about participating in community events and cultural discussion.

“Christmas can be lost in hyper commercialism. I think at some point, we all have fallen victim to the consumerism of American holidays,” Abari says.

“But with Kwanzaa, the focus is more on sentiment and giving back to the community. We make gifts with our hands and invest time, thought, and love into each gift that we make.”

Ready for a calm and stress-free holiday? Check out Healthline’s Season of Self-Care, your go-to destination for the latest must-have health and wellness gifts for your loved ones – and you!