Join us as we honor the history of Kwanzaa and the traditions surrounding the celebratory feast, Karamu.
As the seven days of Kwanzaa draw near, we pay great homage to the history and rich traditions that bring family and friends together in celebration.
Created in 1966 by then leader of the Black Slaves Organization in California, Dr. Maulana Karenga, the name "Kwanzaa" comes from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza," meaning "first fruits." The celebration presents an alternative to the season's traditional holiday observances and honors the communitarian nature of African Americans and people of African descent.
Kwanzaa is observed from December 26 to January 1. Each day represents one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa—symbolized by the lighting of a candle: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).
Kwanzaa celebrations take on many forms, each unique to the families celebrating, and activities include songs, dancing, drumming, storytelling, poetry, and a feast called Karamu on December 31, the sixth night of Kwanzaa. During Karamu, families adorn their homes with festive Pan-African decorations, share an abundance of traditional foods, and pass a unity cup among guests that symbolizes a deep connection to ancestors. And to conclude the feast, the eldest member shares the Tamshi La Tutaonana—a farewell statement bringing the year’s festivities to a close.
Much of the foods eaten during Karamu are hybridized cuisines originating from the African Diaspora—the forced displacement of African people from the African continent between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Many Karamu dishes might include French, Spanish, and African ingredients and cooking techniques hybridized by what was available in the southern United States. It's common to see tables spread with everything from salt fish to guava, red beans, okra, crab, shrimp, and oysters. But the two foods most essential to Karamu celebrations are black-eyed peas and collard greens.
The black-eyed peas are considered a symbol of good luck, and stewed collards represent good fortune. Some families add tomatoes to their black-eyed peas to bring health and wealth in the new year. Some even add a penny or dime to the pot, and whoever finds it in their peas is said to be granted good luck for the year ahead. (Of course, you should warn your guests if adding coins to the pot!)
And because the flavor and color of cornbread are deemed as good as gold—and it pairs deliciously with collards and black-eyed peas—it is often served on the side.
However you and your family celebrate Kwanzaa, we wish you all the joy and unity that come with the first fruits of harvest.