Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday that honors African American heritage and encourages unity in the community; it is not a religious holiday. It is celebrated for seven days from December 26 to January 1 and focuses on seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
Dr. Maulana Karenga, an African American man, created Kwanzaa in 1966, during the civil rights movement because he wanted African Americans to be proud of their culture. He based the model of Kwanzaa on the harvest or first fruits festivals of Africa. The word Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase, matunda ya kwanza, which means first fruits.
During each day of Kwanzaa, families gather to light one of the candles in the kinara or candle holder and discuss the principle of the day. On the sixth day of Kwanzaa, family and friends join together for a big feast called Karamu, which may include storytelling, singing and African drumming. Handmade and educational gifts are exchanged on the final night. Although families celebrate Kwanzaa once a year, they try to live by the principles of Kwanzaa all year long.