Kwanzaa - The Symbol of Hope and Remembrance for African-Americans

By Phyllis Cambria for


 Back in 1966, during a period of great civil unrest for the African-American community, Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga introduced a festival called Kwanzaa (Kishwahili for first).  She hoped the event would spark pride in African-Americans in their heritage and create a sense of self-esteem and spiritual development among the nation’s Blacks.

 The festival, which runs from December 26th through January 1st, is based upon seven principles to coincide with the week-long celebration.

 While Kwanzaa, this uniquely African-American holiday, is celebrated during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, it is more than a festival.  It is a way of life.  It is a way to have African-Americans remember their past and to strive for a better future.

 There are also seven primary symbols to signify this time.  Mkeka is a straw mat upon which all other items are placed and serves as the foundation for the tradition. 

 Muhindi is an ear of corn representing the offspring (children) of the stalk (father of the house).  There is one ear for each child born.  If no children have been born, one ear is used in hopes of a child yet to be.

 Zwadi are the gifts which are given by the parents to reward their offspring. 

Kikombe Cha Umoja is the unity cup which is used to toast Black ancestors. The libation placed in it is drunk by each member of the immediate and extended family.  It also is used as a pledge to continue the struggles endured by the forefathers and a commitment to the future.


 Karamu is a feast to bring the community together to celebrate accomplishments and to give thanks to the Creator for His gifts.

Kinara is a candleholder containing seven candles, three red, three green, and one black, the colors of the African flag. Starting on the day after Christmas, each day’s candle (Mshumaa) symbolizes a different goal:  Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Ukuumba (creativity)and Imani (faith).


 Make a Kwanzaa Kinara

Help your children learn about the meaning of Kwanzaa by getting them involved in putting together their own version of a child-friendly kinara.  Then each evening when your family lights your candles, your children can add a "flame" using the tissue paper described below.

 Supplies Needed:

 3 toilet tissue cardboard tubes painted green

3 toilet tissue cardboard tubes painted red

1 paper towel cardboard tube painted black

Glue and scissors

Red, yellow and orange tissue paper or construction paper cut into triangular shapes to resemble flames.


1. Glue the three green tubes together ( as pictured above,) attach the black tube, then glue the three red tubes together to represent the Mshumaas.

Note: If you wish, you may also attach this to a cardboard base or a woven straw mat for greater stability.

Starting on December 26th and running through January 1st, each evening, add small pieces of red, orange and yellow tissue paper or construction paper to the "candles" to symbolize lighting the Kinara.  Each day discuss one of the goals as described above.


Sweet Potato Pie

1 ready-made, uncooked pecan pie shell (or you can use a plain pie shell or your favorite pie shell recipe)
2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons pure cane syrup (more to taste)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla
6 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons flour
Powdered sugar and/or whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 375º degrees. In a large bowl, whisk the mashed sweet potatoes together with the sugar, cane syrup, cinnamon and vanilla. Use a whisk to stir in eggs, one at a time. Then add cream and flour and stir in with whisk. Pour the filling into the shell. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the pie is set.

Top with powdered sugar and/or whipped cream or use as garnish or on the side. 

Makes 8 servings

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