Kwanzaa is an African-American celebration beginning on December 26 and lasting seven days. It was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a scholar and social activist, to help African Americans be proud of their past and build stronger families. He believed that African Americans needed to know more about their history.

Kwanzaa means "first fruits" in Swahili, the chosen language of Kwanzaa, and is based on principles of African harvest rituals. During African harvest celebrations, people came together, thanked God for food and life, remembered their elders who had died, judged how they had lived the past year, made plans for the new year, danced, sang, and ate food together.

Dr. Karenga discovered that most African groups were guided by seven principles, called Nguzo, and incorporated these principles into the holiday. Each day of the holiday, a Kwanzaa candle (red, green, or black - the colors of Kwanzaa) is lit and one of the seven principles (or Nguzo saba) is the theme for the gathering.

December 26 is UMOJA (oo-MO-jah) - Unity: being joined together.

December 27 is KUJICHAGULIA (koo-jee-cha-goo-LEE-ah) - Self-determination: being yourself.

December 28 is UJIMA (oo-JEE-mah) - Collective work and responsibility: helping one another.

December 29 is UJAMMA (oo-jah-MAH) - Cooperative economics: sharing.

December 30 is NIA (NEE-ah) - Purpose: having a goal.

December 31 is KUUMBA (koo-UH-mbah) - Creativity: using our hands and minds to make things.

January 1 is IMANI (ee-MAH-nee) - Faith: believing in ourselves, our ancestors, and our future.

The goal of Kwanzaa is to put the seven principles into practice in their daily lives. During the week, families get together and reflect on cultural values. They wear traditional clothing - a dashiki (shirt) for the men and dresses adorned with beautiful beads for the women. The young girls also wear a gele or turban around their head. They sing songs, tell stories, and dance.

There are seven things that are used as symbols during Kwanzaa:

MKEKA (mm-KAY-kah): a straw mat which stands for African American history and ideas.

KINARA (kee-NAR-ah): a candle holder which holds seven candles and stands for the family members or ancestors who have died.

MISHUMAA SABA (mi-shu-MAH SAH-ba): The seven candles that are used during Kwanzaa: one black, three red, and three green. They stand for the seven principles.

MUHINDI (moo-HI-ndee): Ears of corn that stand for the children. One ear of corn is placed on the mat for each child in the family. If there are no children, one ear of corn is still placed on the mat to show that children are important to everyone.

MAZAO (mah-ZAH-o): Fruits and vegetables, representing the harvest.

KIKOMBE CHA UMOJA (ki-KOHM-bay cha oo-MO-jah): Kikombe means cup. The full name means unity cup.

ZAWADI (zah-WAH-dee): Gifts. Each child is given two gifts: one must be a book, the other might be something from Africa or something that belonged to a family member.

The flag is another symbol. It stands for all African Americans and has three broad horizontal stripes: black representing the African American people, red - their struggles, and green - their hopes.

Other Swahili phrases often used during Kwanzaa:

HABARI GANI? (hah-BAH-ree GAH-nee): "What's the news?" The answer is the principle being celebrated that day. For example: "Habari Gani?" "Imani!"

KWANZAA YENU IWE NA HERI! (KWAH-nzah YEH-noo EE-weh nah HEH-ree: May your Kwanzaa be happy!

HARAMBEE! (hah-rahm-BEH): Let's pull together! (Said seven times after gifts are opened)