It’s the most festive time of the year! Everyone enters the office with ugly Christmas sweaters, jelly donuts, candy canes, and baked goodies. While most people in our office are gearing up to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year’s – we realized our coworker, Linda, was preparing to celebrate Kwanzaa. Even though it isn’t observed federally as a holiday, we knew she was getting ready for a big week of celebrating with their friends and family – and we all wanted to learn everything about Kwanzaa!
One day, when Linda came into the office wearing traditional African garb, everyone was curious.
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Everything About Kwanzaa
Most of us didn’t know much about the holiday. So Linda was quickly bombarded with different questions. When is Kwanzaa? What is Kwanzaa? Do you say Happy Kwanzaa? Do you give each other gifts?
Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration that honors African-American heritage and culture.
Kwanzaa originated in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of African studies, and is celebrated from December 26th to January 1st.
There are seven days of Kwanzaa. Each day brings a new emotional goal and social responsibility for the individual.
Also read: Black History Month Gifting
Linda is a sweet woman. She loves sharing her culture with the rest of us and was excited to bring the celebration to the office so everyone could learn more about her culture and upbringing. She rejoiced that her coworkers were interested in her favorite holiday and wanted to know more. The best part? She was excited that her favorite holiday was being recognized in the workplace like all other holidays were.
Instead of giving her team members short, quick responses to their questions, she turned it into a learning experience for everyone. Every day that week, she would teach everyone everything they needed to learn.
So, sit back, relax, grab popcorn, and get comfortable. We’re about to take you on a ride through Linda’s experience – so you can learn, too.
Kwanzaa means “first fruits.”
Kelly Navies, an oral histories specialist, explains that the term “Kwanzaa” originates from the Swahili expression “matunda ya kwanza”, which translates to “first fruits”. This is a reference to the agricultural harvest festivals that are a common tradition throughout Africa.
On that Monday, Linda decided to start with the basics behind the Kwanzaa religion, its origin, and its meaning. She started off by explaining that it isn’t actually a religious holiday. (which surprised many people!) Instead, it’s a cultural celebration and a spiritual awakening. In fact, those who celebrate Kwanzaa often also celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and Ramadan, too! However, when the festive times end, and everyone else looks forward to the new year – they first focus on the Kwanzaa meaning.
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Linda didn’t get into too much detail each Kwanzaa day – she wanted to ensure everyone was following along.
Kwanzaa Gifts and Kwanzaa Celebration Ideas
On Tuesday, Linda surprised her coworkers with a traditional communal feast. At lunchtime, she set the table in the break room and brought out her favorite foods for her coworkers to try. There was okra stew, gumbo, collard greens, buttermilk biscuits, and plantains.
Her coworkers dived right into the delicious Kwanzaa celebration she created for everyone. As everyone filled their plates with delicious foods, she explained everything from who celebrates Kwanzaa, what religion celebrates Kwanzaa, and her favorite Kwanzaa celebration ideas.
Here are some gift ideas for the Kwanzaa celebration:
Paintings, sculptures or tapestries, as a gift.
Books written by African authors or about African history and culture are great gift ideas that celebrate African heritage and promote literacy.
Traditional African Clothing
Dashikis, kaftans, or kente cloth, are perfect to wear during Kwanzaa celebrations.
Decorative items with African Motifs
Wooden masks, figurines or baskets, make great Kwanzaa gifts.
Traditional African Food and Spices
Yams, plantains, jollof rice or berbere spice mix, to prepare Kwanzaa meals.
Traditional African Musical Instruments
Djembe drums or mbira thumb pianos, to create a festive atmosphere during Kwanzaa celebrations.
A Kwanzaa Set
A kinara (candle holder), seven candles (representing the seven principles of Kwanzaa), and other decorative items are a great gift for someone celebrating the holiday.
On Wednesday, everyone walked into their shift, ready to learn what Linda would teach them today. This time, the topic was gifting! Linda reassured everyone that her whole family received Kwanzaa gifts. (Yes, on top of their holiday gifts!) In fact – her family has a tradition. Everyone gets matching t-shirts in the Kwanzaa colors. They take turns creating different designs and showcasing their creativity. That’s just one of Linda’s favorite Kwanzaa gift ideas.
She explained that the best part about the holiday is that the gifts come from the heart. It can be a box full of yummy treats, a basket filled with their favorite goodies, or something they need around the office. There is no right or wrong answer!
Kwanzaa Kits: Custom Gifting Ideas
Kwanzaa kits are packages that typically include all the essential items needed to celebrate Kwanzaa, a cultural holiday observed by many African Americans and people of African descent to honor African heritage and African-American culture.
A standard Kwanzaa kit may include the following items with the seven symbols-
- Kinara: This is the candle holder used during Kwanzaa. It holds seven candles.
- Mishumaa Saba: These are the seven candles that are placed in the Kinara. There are three red candles, three green candles, and one black candle. Each candle represents one of the Seven Principles (Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).
- Mkeka: This is the mat on which all the other Kwanzaa symbols are placed. It’s usually made of straw or fabric and symbolizes the foundation of communities.
- Mazao: These are crops that represent the fruits of collective labor. Usually, fruits, nuts, and vegetables are used.
- Kikombe cha Umoja: This is the Unity Cup used for pouring libations.
- Zawadi: These are gifts, usually educational or artistic, given to children during the celebration.
- Corn: Often included to represent the children and the future.
- Instructions/Booklet: Many kits come with an instructional booklet that explains the significance of each item and provides a guide for celebrating Kwanzaa.
- Decorative items: Some kits may include African fabrics, banners, or additional ornaments to enhance the celebration.
Kwanzaa kits can be a convenient way for individuals or families to partake in the holiday’s traditions, especially if they are new to the celebration or don’t have individual items readily available. These kits are often available for purchase online or at stores that sell holiday and cultural items.
Book a call with SwagMagic to create a customized and personalized Kwanzaa gift kit with swag and snack.Celebrate with joy.
Lighting the Kinara – A Candle Holder
The kinara is a seven-pronged candle holder that represents African American roots. Families light one candle on each day of Kwanzaa to honor the seven principles.
Celebrating the Seven Principles
On each of the seven days of Kwanzaa, families and communities come together to celebrate and reflect on one of the seven principles through stories, dances, songs, poems, and affirmations.
Sharing the Kikombe Cha Umoja – A Unity Cup
Families drink from the unity cup and pour a libation to honor their ancestors. This ritual symbolizes principles of harmony, community, and purpose.
Displaying African Artifacts
Families decorate their homes with African art, colorful textiles, and harvest symbols to embrace Black culture and heritage. Common decorations include the kinara, mkeka mats, mazao crops, karamu feast symbols, and gifts of zawadi.
Preparing and Sharing Traditional Foods
Kwanzaa gatherings feature large, festive, communal feasts with traditional foods like jollof rice, fried plantains, squash, sweet potatoes, collard greens, corn bread, fish, and junjune chicken stew. These reflect roots in African agriculture and cuisine.
Exchanging Zawadi aka Small Gifts
On Karamu, the last day of Kwanzaa, community members exchange meaningful, often handmade gifts like books, heritage symbols, and artworks to reinforce awareness of African American creativity.
Attending Community Events
Many communities hold large festivals and bazaars honoring Pan-African and Black culture through music, drumming, dance, poetry, crafts, and a showcase of visual arts.
Thursday was dedicated to traditions. Just like any other holiday, there are many Kwanzaa traditions. There is more than just Kwanzaa food, gifts, and celebrations!
To share her traditions with her coworkers, she decided to bring her favorite Kwanzaa decorations into the office. She filled her cubicle with black, red, and green colored decorations. There were streamers, traditional African patterns, and of course, some sweet food!
When a coworker stopped by her cubicle, she greeted them with a traditional Kwanzaa greeting. “Habari Gani?” she said. When they looked back with a confused look, she’d explain it meant how are you and hand them a branded item for them to keep.
Celebrate Kwanzaa Days and Seven Principles
The last lesson she taught her coworkers was each of the 7 principles of Kwanzaa. She hoped her team members could learn something from each of the seven Kwanzaa days and bring it back to their own families.
During their lunch break, she grabbed a whiteboard and wrote down each of the Kwanzaa symbols and principles they all needed to know
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race. Unity encourages togetherness, harmony, and cooperation.
To define and create for oneself. Self-determination builds confidence, initiative, and purposeful living.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
To build and maintain communities together and solve problems together. Ujima promotes cooperative economics and collective accountability.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain businesses to profit the community. Ujamaa supports Black economics and encourages Black people to meet common needs through mutual support.
To make collective vocation the purpose of the community. Nia aims to build cooperative societies that restore Black people to their traditional greatness.
To always do as much as possible to leave communities more beneficial than when found. Kuumba values creative problem solving and progressive change.
To believe with all heart in parents, teachers, leaders, and the righteousness of the Black struggle. Imani promotes optimistic vision, hope, and confidence.
Kwanzaa Candles aka Mishumaa Saba
She explained seven Kwanzaa candles are red, black, and green. They are called Mishumaa Saba. She wrote on the whiteboard exactly what each candle represents:
- The Black Candles – African People
- The Red Candles – The Struggles
- The Green Candles – The Future
Linda sharing the origin, traditions, and meaning behind Kwanzaa with her coworkers was more than just a history lesson. It was an opportunity to educate her team members on her African heritage and the struggles she and her ancestors faced in the United States.
So, next time you see a flag or a traditional African head scarf – don’t forget the meaning.
After the week-long history lesson, Linda’s manager purchased matching shirts for the whole office using their corporate swag store! The shirts were red, black, and green. They were bold, colorful, and filled with life. Before everyone left for winter break to spend some much-needed time with friends and family, they took group photos together to remind them of their workplace family and the memories they shared exploring everything about Kwanzaa.