What Is Kwanzaa?
  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe how citizens organize in response to a need.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define community as the degree that people come together for the common good.

This lesson introduces the origin and purpose of Kwanzaa. Young people make a kinara, or candle holder, to use for the rest of the unit as they learn about the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

PrintOne Forty-Five Minute Session

The learner will:

  • describe the general characteristics of Kwanzaa.
  • read-aloud book about Kwanzaa (see Bibliography)
  • Map of the world
  • template and colored paper for making a kinara
  • copies of handout: What We Learned
  • Ford, Juwanda. K is for Kwanzaa. Cartwheel Books, 1997. ISBN: 0590922009
  • Hoyt-Goldsmith, Diane. Celebrating Kwanzaa. Holiday House, 1994. ISBN: 0823411303
  • Johnson, Dolores. The Children’s Book of Kwanzaa: A Guide to Celebrate the Holiday. Aladdin Paperbacks, 1997. ISBN: 0689815565
  • Pinkney, Andrea Davis. Seven Candles of Kwanzaa. Dial Books for Young Readers, 1993. ISBN: 0803712928
  • Robertson, Linda. Kwanzaa Fun. Houghton Mifflin Co., 2003. ISBN: 0753456850
  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Show where Africa is located on a world map. Tell young people that Africa is the second largest continent and it contains many countries, cultures, and habitats. Share some of your knowledge of distinct places in Africa that illustrate uniqueness and diversity.

  2. Introduce Kwanzaa as an African American holiday celebrated in the U.S. to honor cultural heritage. Ask young people what holidays they celebrate or traditions they practice as part of their cultural heritage.

    Note to facilitator: Kwanzaa was developed in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University, to celebrate the African heritage of many Americans and increase unity and pride within the black community. (Kwankaa is not a traditional African celebration) Although Africa is an incredibly diverse continent, the celebration is based on first-harvest celebrations of various African cultures. The seven principles of Kwanzaa are based on a compilation of many African traditions and spoken in Swahili, which is a language that is spoken in many countries of Africa. 

  3. Read aloud the introduction from the book Seven Candles of Kwanzaa by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Read one or more of the other books listed above to provide general information about the celebration (see Bibliography). There are YouTube versions of most of the books.

  4. Reinforce information about Kwanzaa by discussing the following questions after reading:

    • What does Kwanzaa mean? (first fruits of the first harvest)
    • Why was Kwanzaa developed? (to celebrate African heritage and unite black Americans)
    • When does this celebration begin and end? (December 26 – January 1)
    • How long does Kwanzaa last? (seven days)
    • What distinguishes each day, or what is the focus of each day? (a different principle)
    • What is a principle? (a guiding belief—something to implement in daily life)
    • How does celebrating Kwanzaa build community? 
  5. Give instructions for each youth to make a kinara. Each day for seven days (guided by lessons two and three of this unit), they will learn about one principle, and “light” one candle in this kinara. They may color the candles or use colored paper. The first three candles are green, the middle candle is black and the last three candles are red. They should not color or make the flames today. See handout: Kinara Patterns or directions for a 3-D kinara from the Internet.

  6. Give the overview that each day represents a different principle, and they light a candle to represent that principle. The candles/principles are called mishumaa (mee-SHOO-mah) and the candle holder is called a kinara (kee-NAR-ah). 

    Talk about what a principle is. Reflect together on how having principles is good for the community. Make a list of principles a family or the community values or exhibits in order to get along and get their work done (patience, working together, perseverance, respecting others, honesty and so on.) Refer to that list over the seven days to see if they come up as they learn the principles of Kwanzaa.