Special -- Celebrate Kwanzaa

A Design for Exploring the Festival

Many African American congregations have adopted the festival of Kwanzaa (Kwahn'zah) into their congregation's life. It is a spiritual holiday that grounds them in their ancient roots and values. The seven-day festival begins on December 26 and ends January 1. It is based on agricultural celebrations in Africa called "first fruits" (as the ancient Israelite festivals in Exodus 23.16). It is a time for the gathering of the community, commemorating the past, recommitting to the community's highest ideals, and revering creation and our Creator God.

Purpose of This Event

This guide is intended for congregations who already celebrate Kwanzaa, as well as all congregations who want to study or introduce the celebration. Although the design gives only a brief overview of the weeklong festival, the integrity of Kwanzaa has remained.

Background Information

There are eight principle symbols of Kwanzaa and two supplemental principles. All principles are used throughout the week.

Principle symbols

Mazao (mah-zah'-oh): the crops, symbol of harvest celebrations and the rewards of productive and collective labor.

Mkeka (em-kay'-kah): the mat, symbol of tradition and the foundation upon which the people build a future.

Mishumaa Saba (mee-shoo-mah-‘ah sah'-bah): the seven candles used to represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

Kinara (kee-nah-rah'): a seven candle candleholder, symbol of those who come from continental Africa.

Kikombe cha Umoja (kee-kohm'-bay): the unity cup, symbolic of the foundational principle and the practice of unity.

Zwadi (zah-wah'-dee): the gifts, symbolic of the labor of love by parents.

Muhindi (moo-heen'-dee): corn, ears of corn, representing children.

Bendera (bayn-day'rah): the flag representing the African people. The colors are black for the people, red for blood shed in the struggle, and green for the land that is a hope and a future.

Seven principles of Kwanzaa

A Nguzo Saba poster (en-goo'zoh sah'bah) is used to list the following seven principles of Kwanzaa:

Umojo (oo-moh'-jah) is unity.

Kujichagulia (koo-jee; chah-goo-lee'-ah) is self-determination.

Ujima (oo-jee'-mah) is collective work and responsibility.

Ujamaa (oo-jah'mah) is cooperative economics.

Nia (nee'-ah) is purpose.

Kuumba (koo-oom'-bah) is creativity.

Imani (ee-mah'nee) is faith.

How to Explore Kwanzaa

The seven principles of Kwanzaa are celebrated December 26 through January 1, with a different principle highlighted each night. This guide focuses on only one feast, the night of kuumba or creativity celebrated on December 31. The pattern may be repeated for recognizing any principle.

To prepare for the event, set a table with the symbols of Kwanzaa. Place mkeka (mat), the kinara (candleholder) with the mishumaa saba (candles) in this order: single black candle in the center, three green candles on the left, and three red candles on the right. Add muhindi (at least one ear of corn or one ear of corn per child in the community), the kikombe cha umoja (unity cup or chalice), and zwadi (gifts, usually homemade), a small bendera (flag), and a poster of nguzo sabe (it might be placed on a wall behind the table).

Also prepare the feast of foods and entertainment called Karamu (kah-rah'-moo). Families agree beforehand which foods to prepare and bring. As much as possible, try to use foods representative of Africa. Print recipes on index cards and place by each food item. Dishes might include: jallof (a dish of western African consisting of rice, chicken, fish, beef and/or pork and black-eyed peas) and chin-chin (strips of fried sweet dough, similar to the "elephant ears" eaten at fairs!)

1. Gather the people around the table that has been set with food.

2. Greet one another with the words "Happy Kwanzaa!"

3. Light the candles, beginning with center candle and alternating red (right), green (left). State the name of each principal as the candles are lit.

Use the following words:

Leader: We light the candle of Umoja.

People: This is the candle of unity.

Leader: We light the candle of Kujichagulia.

People: This is the candle of self-determination.

Leader: We light the candle of Ujima.

People: This is the candle of cooperative economics.

Leader: We light the candle of Nia.

People: This is the candle of purpose.

Leader: We light the candle of Kuumba.

People: This is the candle of creativity.

Leader: Tomorrow we will light the candle of Imani.

People: That is the candle of faith.

4. Next pour the tambiko (tahm-bee-‘koh) or libation. Fill the kikombe cha umoja (unity cup) with water and, using a small potted plant, pour a little water into the plant after each libation. Using the word asante (ah'sahn'-tay) after each statement, honor past members of the church, those who were instrumental in founding the local congregation, past leaders, and pastors. Go back as far as possible (always start in the past and come forward):

Leader: In honor of [name of leader] who [gift or work they contributed].

People: Asante

5. Using Acts 2:42–47, reflect on how the principles of Kwanzaa are reflected in the first century church—for example: In Acts 2:44, Luke writes "selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as she or he had need." How does this action reflect cooperative economics? How do we exhibit cooperative economics in our church? In what other ways is nguzo sabe reflected in scripture?

6. Close the experience by singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing," hymn number 593 in The New Century Hymnal, or another hymn such as "We've Come This Far by Faith." Dismiss one another with the words "Happy Kwanzaa!" or with the Swahili pronunciation "Kwahn'zah yah'-noo ee'-way nah hay'ree!"

Pronunciation of Swahili words are taken from Kwanzaa, A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture (Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press, 1998) by Maulana Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa.

This experience was designed by Amelia Walker. She is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, currently serving as associate pastor at Advent United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio.

For more information about ritual and worship practices from diverse cultural communities, contact <www.ucc.org> or the Worship and Education Ministry Team at 216.736.2281.

Copyright 2001 Worship and Education Ministries Team, Local Church Ministries, Los Angeles, UCC, Cleveland. Permission is granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved. Designed and printed by United Church Resources, Local Church Ministries.


Rev. Susan A. Blain
Minister for Worship, Liturgy and Spiritual Formation
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115