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Kwanzaa Facts: The History Behind the Week-Long Festival

Kwanzaa is celebrated in the United States from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

The seven-day festival of Kwanzaa, which celebrates African-American heritage and culture, starts Wednesday, Dec. 26, and ends Tuesday, Jan. 1. Here are some facts about the week-long holiday.

  • Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, now chair of California State University Long Beach's Department of Africana Studies, in what he called "an audacious act of self-determination."
  • The name "Kwanzaa" comes from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza," which means "first fruits."
  • Kwanzaa's focus is the "Nguzo Saba," or the Seven Principles—unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
  • During the week, a candelabrum called a Kinara is lit, and ears of corn representing each child in the family are placed on a traditional straw mat.
  • African foods such as millet, spiced pepper balls and rice are often served. Some people fast during the holiday and a feast is often held on its final night.
  • A flag with three bars—red for the struggle for freedom, black for unity, and green for the future—is sometimes displayed during the holiday.
  • Kwanzaa is based on the theory of Kawaida, which espouses that social revolutionary change for black America can be achieved by exposing blacks to their cultural heritage.

—This list was compiled with information from City News Service.

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