Coming up right after Christmas is the celebration of Kwanzaa in the United States. It’s a week-long celebration that honors African Americans’ ancestral roots that takes place Saturday, December 26th until Friday, January 1st.
The non-religious holiday was introduced to the U.S. in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, who created the festival for African Americans as a response to the commercialism of Christmas. The 7-day celebration consists of gift-giving and a Feast of Faith called Karamu Ya Imani that takes place on the sixth day, December 31st. The celebration is defined by the Seven Principles – with each day having special meaning and each day is marked by lighting a candle on the kinara (a seven-branched candelabra).
The Seven Principles are as follows: Umoja stands for unity in Swahili (a Bantu language), Kujichagulia stands for self-determination, Ujima stands for collective work and responsibility, Ujamaa stands for cooperative economics (uplifting your community economically), Nia stands for purpose, Kuumba stands for creativity, and Imani stands for faith. Whether you’re part of the African American culture or not, here are various ways you can take part in the annual festival locally.
New Jersey for Performing Arts Center
The New Jersey for Performing Arts Center (NJPAC)’s annual Kwanzaa Festival and Marketplace is back in person this year. The event celebrates culture, community, and creative expression on December 17th. The day includes dance classes, arts and crafts, storytelling, face painting, and a Kwanzaa candle lighting ceremony, leading into a special Show and Share so participants can demonstrate what they’ve learned from the event. Live performances will take place in the lobby every hour to accompany shopping at the Kwanzaa Marketplace. Whole Foods will provide water, cornbread, and fruits and vegetables as our vibunzi. To register for these events, visit NJPAC’s website.
Montclair Public Library Foundation
Celebrate the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa with a festive community gathering featuring traditional presentations, live entertainment, and programs that illustrate the historical elements of Kwanzaa. One such principle, cooperative economics, will be demonstrated during the Ujamaa Winter Market. No registration is required, but there is a cap on indoor activities. Visit their website for the full schedule here.
Union Public Library
This year the Union Public Library is hosting a Kwanzaa dance party on December 29th. Choreographer, author, and dancer, Walter Rutledge, celebrates Kwanzaa with a Dance Party incorporating the traditional elements of the holiday while introducing new movement, art, and music concepts. This is a family-friendly event. If you like, bring a dish to share. Space is limited, so please register early here.
New York City’s Apollo Theater will be hosting Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Celebration, on Friday, December 30th starting at 7:30PM. The events feature Forces of Nature Dance Theater under the leadership of choreographer Abdel Salaam and hosted by actress, Stephanie Berry. For more information and to RSVP, visit Apollo’s website found here.
Take a Weekend Trip to Philadelphia
If you have no plans for the week of December 26th, a quick holiday getaway to Philadelphia sounds like a good idea. The African American Museum will be hosting Kwanzaa Week with live events from December 26th through January 1st. Events include family-friendly story time, a curated Black -Owned business night market with music, games, drop-in Kwanzaa activities, and vendors from across the region, vision boarding, and so much more. Guests are encouraged to dress in Kente, Ankara, or positive and empowering Kwanzaa-related attire all week long. For more information, visit their website here.