Simple Preparations for Kwanzaa

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I am passionate about renewing the festivals that are important to us so that we celebrate them in a way that is authentic to our unique family values and culture. I have noticed that there are many guides and articles about how Waldorf-inspired families celebrate Christian and/or Pagan festivals but very few about how others mindfully celebrate their family’s festivals and I want to change that.

It is my hope that this journal entry and many more to come will inspire others with similar belief systems to renew, recreate and celebrate this festival in their own way. I also believe it is vital that those who don’t share the same spiritual heritage acknowledge and witness the beauty and goodness in others’ traditions. There is so much to learn and enjoy about our diversity. 

This contribution is from Ashley Causey-Golden, the creator of Afrocentric Montessori and co-founder of Gather Forest School in Atlanta, Georgia. Her work is grounded in a liberatory, anti-bias, and anti-racist framework that centers Blackness. You can also find her on Instagram @afrocentric.montessori

In your words, what is Kwanzaa?

I will share a brief or condensed explanation of Kwanzaa but if you would like to learn more about the origin and history of Kwanzaa, please watch this documentary (2008), called Black Candle, or visit, the Official Kwanzaa Website.

Kwanzaa is a time for realignment, reflection, and re-remembering what people with African ancestry have done and will do not only for our people but for humanity. It is a time to center on what is good and sacred about our people and to continue to hope and strive for what is possible. 

What does it symbolize and mean to you and your family? 

Kwanzaa is a time for me and my family to slow down and gather together. Christmas is such a rush and can be overwhelming at times with all the shopping, decorating, visiting, and hosting that Christmas brings. It is important to me to reconnect with self, rituals, and rhythms before the new year comes.  Each day allows me to reflect and reassess where I am and my areas of growth. For my son, it is a time to share with him but also teach him about the richness and depth of our African ancestry. 

Can you draw a parallel between Kwanzaa and what is happening in the natural world around us? Is there a connection between what is happening seasonally and what this festival symbolizes? 

Kwanzaa means first fruits. The celebration is deeply connected with the land and the abundance provided by the Earth. On the sixth night of Kwanzaa, December 31, there is a feast (karamu). It is where family and friends come together to celebrate with food and music. I see Kwanzaa as connecting to the natural world because it is a time for me to recenter, shift, and realign my priorities for the new year just as in the winter season there is a slowing down and quietness, I find that too within my practice with Kwanzaa. 

What beliefs/virtues/values do you hope to bring to light by honouring this tradition?

Kwanzaa lasts for 7 days. Each day we have a key principle that we reflect upon through conversations, activities, and books. These key principles (Nguzo Saba)  are values that I want to live out through my actions. Kwanzaa allows me to recommit myself to these values.

1st Day: Umoja (unity)

2nd Day: Kujichagulia (self-determination)

3rd Day: Ujima (collective work and responsibility)

4th Day: Ujamaa (cooperative economics)

5th Day: Nia (purpose)

6th Day: Kuumba (creativity)

7th Day: Imani (faith)

How do you set the scene for Kwanzaa? Is there anything you do in advance before the day to mark or model that this time is coming? (Decor? Creating a small scene on a table?)

I will share the traditional way for one to prepare for Kwanzaa. You can truly use what you have to start out and grow with it each year. It is the meaning and ritual behind the items that hold importance. I share this because I think too often we skip or miss out on experiences that are meant to nourish and strengthen the soul because we don’t have everything to start. 

As I share the traditional way of preparing for Kwanzaa, I will use the pronoun, we, to represent the collective spirit of people with African ancestry. 

Each of the seven days, one candle is lit for the key principle of the day. The candles (Mishumaa Saba)— one black (center candle), three red (located to the left) and three green (located to the right)—are placed in a kinara.   

The colors of the candles represent the African American people, their struggle, and their future–which was given by Marcus Garvey, leader of the Pan-Africanism movement.

The black represents the people. We light the black candle on the first day of Kwanzaa for Umoja (unity). The red is for our struggle and the blood that has been shed and is still being shed. We light the red candle on the second day of Kwanzaa for Kujichagulia (self-determination). The green represents the richness of the land in Africa but also it stands for hope and a bright future for African Americans. We light the green candle on the third day Ujima (collective work and responsibility). For the remainder of the days, we alternate between red and green. 

The kinara is placed on a straw mat (mkeka). On or around the mkeka, we have a fruit basket (mazao), a unity cup (kikombe) as well as one ear of corn (muhindi or vibunzi) to celebrate the children in the family. Each of these symbols adds to the rich tradition of our African heritage. 

Lastly, there are gifts (zawadi). These gifts are given on the last day of Kwanzaa but many families give a gift for each day. The intentionality of the gift is to be homemade and center the heritage of the African people. The gifts represent the meaning of key principles and should be used to help guide the receiver to keep the commitments made during Kwanzaa. 

How do you prepare the day before it? (Food? Decor? Rituals?) 

Since we also celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December, I start preparing for Kwanzaa on its first day, the 26th. It flows nicely since I see Kwanzaa as more of a slowing down to recenter, remember, and prepare for the new year. It also allows me to transition from the hustle that Christmas brings to something that I see as a grounded practice of intentionality.

Are there any elements of this tradition that are for adults only? How are children involved during Kwanzaa? What do they look forward to the most? 

Within my home practice of Kwanzaa, there are no elements for adults only. Children can help the the set up of the table, the lighting and blowing out of the candles. They can also help with choosing the books, songs, or activities that align with the key principle of the day.  Children can also help with the preparation of the feast (karamu) by choosing some of the dishes, decor, activities, and/or music that will be played for the celebration. 

I change some of the reflection questions I create to make them child-friendly but we all do each activity together. Since my son is only 22 months, we do a lot of singing and dancing. It’s because he connects with that style of communication and community building. For example, we love the Kwanzaa Celebration Song

Children enjoy spending time with those they love. It is about spending intentional quality time. That is what children enjoy the most about the celebration—spending time with the people they love. 

Ashley Causey-Golden is the creator of Afrocentric Montessori and co-founder of Gather Forest School in Atlanta, Georgia. Her work is grounded in a liberatory, anti-bias, and anti-racist framework that centers Blackness.

1 Comment

  1. José Kombo on December 21, 2023 at 5:13 am

    Hello! I’m mullato from Romania, and starting this year (2023) I will celebrate Kwanzaa, instead of Christmas.
    Thank you for the quick guide.
    Happy Kwanzaa!

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