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(December 26 - January 1)

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Kwanzaa, an African-American holiday celebrating family, community, culture and self-improvement, was founded December 26, 1966 by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga, an African-American scholar and activist. More than 13 million people in African communities around the world now celebrate the holiday. Kwanzaa is Swahili for "first fruits of the harvest" and refers to traditional African first-fruit celebrations that focus on the gathering of family and community, thanksgiving, reverence for the creator, commemoration of African history and recommitment to African cultural ideals. Kwanzaa is a reaffirmation of African-American history, culture and community rather than a political or religious observance.

Kwanzaa lasts for seven days, from December 26 to January 1, and is focused around Seven Principles or Nguzo Saba. A candle is lit each day in celebration of one of the Seven Principles: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith).

The symbols of Kwanzaa include the Mkeka, a traditional straw mat. Other symbols of Kwanzaa are placed on the Mkeka. In the center of the Mkeka, a Kinara (candleholder) holds the red, black and green Mshumaa (candles) -- representing the Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles). Ears of corn called Muhindi represent the offspring of the household. One Muhindi is placed on the Mkeka for each child in the family. Families without children still place one Muhindi on the Mkeka to symbolize the African commitment to collective parenthood for the community. Each family member drinks from the Kikombe Cha Umoja (Unity Cup) to honor and praise ancestral struggles and show commitment to collective work. The Mkeka also holds gifts, called Zawadi, that are shared among the family. Gifts are traditionally exchanged on January 1, the last day of the holiday. However, exchanges can take place at any time during Kwanzaa. The music, dancing and feasting of the Kwanzaa Karamu (feast) on December 31 is the high point of the holiday.

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