Kwanzaa 2023: Everything you need to know about the week-long holiday

The holiday celebrating African culture and heritage lasts from Dec. 26 to Jan 1.

ByKelly McCarthy ABCNews logo
What is Kwanzaa: Origins and traditions of the African American cultural holiday
Each year, December 26th marks the beginning of the seven-night celebration of PanAfrican culture, known as Kwanzaa. 6abc's Sharrie Williams breaks down the origins, 7 principles and traditions of the holiday.

Kwanzaa, which honors African American and Pan-African culture and traditions, is celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, The seven-night celebration stretches across millions of homes and communities around the world.

Here's what you need to know about the Kwanzaa holiday.

How did Kwanzaa originate?

Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chair of the department of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966 during the Black Freedom Movement.

The origins of the non-religious holiday are tied back to the first harvest celebrations in Africa, according to the official holiday website.

Dwight Baldwin gives African drumming pointers to children during Kwanzaa observances at Kente Cultural Center in New London, Conn., Dec. 27, 2012. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day via AP, FILE)

What does Kwanzaa mean?

The Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza," means "first fruits." African culture and major religions have a deep history of celebrations around "first fruits."

How is Kwanzaa celebrated?

A Hip Hop & Jazz Fusion Dance group perform during We Win Institute's 20th annual celebration of Kwanzaa at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, Dec. 26th, 2016. (Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune via ZUMA Wire via Newscom, FILE)

During the holiday, families and communities organize around what are known as the seven principles, or Nguzo Saba.

The seven principles include, unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

People celebrate with feasts, also known as karamu, music, dance, poetry, narratives and gifts that are encouraged to be educational and promote African heritage.

The holiday ends with a day that is dedicated to reflection and recommitment to the Seven Principles and other core cultural values.

What are the seven symbols of Kwanzaa?

The seven symbols of Kwanzaa are the Kinara, a candle holder; Mishumaa Saba, seven candles; Mkeka, the mat; Mazao, crops; Muhindi, ears of corn; Kikombe Cha Umoja, a unity cup; and Zawadi, gifts.

At the beginning of the holiday, a central place in the home is chosen to spread out an African cloth on a table, then the mat, followed by the other symbols, like the candle holder, crops, corn and unity cup.

What do the colors red, green and black symbolize?

The Markham African Caribbean Canadian Association's Kwanzaa celebration took place Saturday afternoon at the Milliken Mills High School, Dec. 14, 2013. (David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images, FILE)

The Mishumaa Saba consists of seven candles. One black candle represents the people, or unity, and gets placed in the center of the Kinara.

The three red candles represent the people's struggles and three more green candles symbolize the future and hope that can come from struggle.

Who can celebrate Kwanzaa?

Community members and public attend the opening ceremony of the 29th Annual Kwanzaa Celebration at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society in Milwaukee, Wis., on Dec. 26, 2017. (Pat A. Robinson/ via Newscom, FILE)

Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious holiday, that can be celebrated alongside other major religious and secular holidays.