Kwanzaa party guide

Kwanzaa, the annual seven-day African-American holiday, is a time to gather, honor traditions and—of course—feast. Every family celebrates in their own way, but we've got a few festive ideas to help you plan without the stress and make it a Kwanzaa to remember.

Invitations

Send out the word to family and friends about your Kwanzaa celebration with the premium “Light the Kwanzaa Candles” Evite invitation below, the free invitation below or check out our Kwanzaa invitation gallery for more options.

Evite Kwanzaa Invitation
Kwanzaa Kinara Candles Invitation

Decorations

Go for the holiday's traditional colors—green, red and black—using streamers, balloons and African prints. Display African art objects, textiles and maps on tables and walls. Place colorful floor pillows around the table for guests to sit on.

Most importantly though, your Kwanzaa set should be the centerpiece of your celebration. Place these items on a low table or on the floor, in a central location of your party area.

Ideas for arranging your Kwanzaa set:

  1. Cover a table with an African cloth that is green, red and black.
  2. Place a large mat (called a mkeka) on the cloth. The other items will then be placed on, or around, the mat.
  3. Put the Kwanzaa candleholder (kinara) on the cloth, and add the seven candles (mishumaa saba): one black, three red and three green. The black candle goes in the center, the green candles to the right of it and the red candles to its left.
  4. Crops (mazao), usually represented by various colorful fruits and vegetables, are then placed on the table, along with ears of corn. The corn symbolizes children; there should be an ear of corn on the table for each child in the family. If there are no children in your home, place two ears on the table to represent the importance of children to the community.
  5. The next item you display is your unity cup (kikombe cha umoja).
  6. Lastly, round out your display with traditional Kwanzaa gifts (zawadi): books, African art objects and handmade items.

Traditions

Every night of Kwanzaa highlights one of the seven principles of the holiday. The celebration begins each night with someone calling out the greeting “Habari gani?” (“What’s the news?”). Everybody responds with the name of the principle for that night.

After that, the candles of the kinara are then lit. The first night, the black candle is lit and for each subsequent night one more candle is lit, from left to right.

The Seven Nights and Principles of Kwanzaa:

  • December 26 Umoja (Unity)
  • December 27 Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
  • December 28 Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
  • December 29 Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
  • December 30 Nia (Purpose)
  • December 31 Kuumba (Creativity)
  • January 1 Imani (Faith)

The sixth night, December 31, features a large feast called Karamu. On the final night, a farewell statement is given; everybody takes a final drink from the unity cup and the kinara candles are extinguished.

Activities

Kwanzaa is a family affair, so choose activities that honor and celebrate your nearest and dearest.

  • Put together a family scrapbook, and ask guests to bring their favorite photos and small, special mementos from the year to include.
  • Get everyone in the holiday spirit with group sing-alongs, poetry readings and dance performances.
  • Create a family tree and ask relatives to help you map out your family tree.
  • Make jewelry by stringing African beads into colorful necklaces and earrings. These will make gorgeous additions to your Kwanzaa set and are great gifts.

Food

Kwanzaa dinners usually feature African-American dishes with Southern, Caribbean and African specialties. Save your biggest showstoppers for the feast of Karamu on December 31. For main dishes, try okra gumbo or an African stew. Roast beef, lamb kabobs or jerk chicken or pork are great options too. Accompany your main dish with beloved sides like corn casserole, red beans and rice, sweet potato soufflé and fried okra. And don't forget about dessert! Cap off the meal with zucchini bread, sweet potato pie and benne cakes (West African sesame cookies).

Drinks

Ginger Beer (serves 6 to 8)

Despite its name, this West African drink is non-alcoholic. You can spice it up by adding a shot of rum to each glass. Note: In this recipe, from Epicurious, the ginger must steep for 24 hours before serving.

  • 6 cups water
  • 1 pound fresh ginger, peeled, coarsely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar or white sugar
  • 1 lime, cut into 6-8 wedges, for garnish

Bring 6 cups water to boil in large saucepan. Finely chop ginger in processor. Transfer chopped ginger to large glass or ceramic bowl; add boiling water and stir to blend. Cover loosely with foil; let ginger mixture stand at cool room temperature 24 hours.

Strain ginger liquid into large pitcher; discard solids in strainer. Add sugar to liquid and stir until sugar dissolves. Fill glasses with crushed ice and pour ginger beer over ice. Serve each glass of ginger beer with a lime wedge to squeeze over the top.

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