Seven Ways to Embrace the Seven Days: Tips for Organizing Kwanzaa (for 1st-Timers)
Check out our Kwanzaa family book bundle
Kwanzaa is an American holiday celebrated by people of African descent, which lasts for one week beginning on December 26. During this time, just prior to the new year, we use an African-centered perspective (i.e., our perspective) to reflect on our individual and familial/ancestral past and future, as well as work to strengthen our community.
We recognize that there is immense value in celebrating Kwanzaa, and yet it might not feel easy, or you may feel intimidated to try out the tradition if you haven’t done so before. So, here are a few tips to help you get started from one of The Liberation Lab’s members who introduced it into their own family more than a decade ago and has celebrated annually ever since.
We will spare you the details of Kwanzaa’s larger purpose, history, and all of the “how-tos” for now ‘cause that’s easy to find. We like this short article and video from The Grio for support getting started, and for a deep dive, see Dr. M.K. Asante’s excellent documentary The Black Candle. Also, consider purchasing our Kwanzaa book bundle, below.
We offer 7 short insights for help getting started, below.
Seven Ways to Help Embrace the Seven Days
Just do it (don’t worry if you are doing it the “right” way)
The essence of Kwanzaa is to (re)connect with traditional African values, such as prioritizing community and living with intention and purpose, and consider how to apply or (re)apply them to uplift yourself and your community. If you keep this at the center of your activities, then you are upholding Kwanzaa’s purpose . To celebrate, as you probably know by now, there are some new words and symbols to learn and use. Don’t fret if you can’t remember them all! Refer to your cheat sheet (that computer in your pocket), learn as you go, and enjoy the cherished moments.
Make it Yours
There is a standard way of coming together and celebrating this tradition, AND feel free to add your own “sauce,” as Black folk tend to do. For example, your Kwanzaa altar/table should have photos of your departed family members, blood-related and otherwise, who have transitioned from the physical world. You can include their old possessions, as well, to help bring in their energy/personality, as well as whatever objects represent the energy you want your table to emanate. Also, add photos of any “collective” ancestors, i.e. heroes and sheroes who inspire you and/or have contributed to the well-being and progress of people of African descent.
Show us how you make it yours! Send us photos of your celebration so we can share your genius with others. (IG: @theliberationlab / email@example.com)
Start with just one or a few days of celebration.
For some, especially introverts, the thought of a 7-day holiday, like Kwanzaa, may feel daunting after the myriad of November/December holidays leading up to December 26. If you don’t feel up to celebrating every single day of Kwanzaa, especially if it’s your first time, it’s ok to scale it back a bit and just do one big celebration or celebrate on a few of the days.
Plan & Build Your Altar Table Early
Again, with the holiday deluge of December, you may forget to prepare and have to scramble at the last minute. So, find your Kwanzaa table materials early at a local Black owned business. For example, if you are in the DC area, check out Sankofa Cafe and Books near Howard University. Or, alternatively, use what you have one hand and be creative, i.e. do the DIY thing (you might use tea tree candles, African fabric or artifacts/symbols, etc.)
Find Local Kwanzaa Events & Connect
Depending on where you live, there are likely some local Kwanzaa events that you and/or your family could attend (for folks living in the DMV, see this 2022 Kwanzaa Calendar and Resource Guide). Doing this will help you experience and be inspired by other people’s creative spin on the holiday. Also, it always helps to be around like-minded people when you are doing something new and different from the mainstream to feel like part of a community. If you have no way to do this, watching the documentary The Black Candle is a great alternative.
Put us on! Share the Kwanzaa events in your community; send photos and/or event details (IG: @theliberationlab / firstname.lastname@example.org)
Find Black-owned Business & Creators [to purchase Kwanzaa & holiday gifts]
One of the 7 Kwanzaa principles is Ujaama, meaning “collective economics,” i.e. buying from Black-owned businesses and/or buying things made by Black creators. Depending on where you live, this may not be easy. Do your best. If you prepare in advance, you can easily find many online businesses owned by Black folk. Try to do this in advance, though, to be sure you have enough time to receive your purchases before Kwanzaa (small businesses don’t have Amazon Prime shipping!). Additionally, doing this during the entire holiday season, generally, is ideal, and then you can impress your folks during Kwanzaa by putting them on to all the Black-owned spots or Black creators you discovered.
Brainstorm Ways to Incorporate the Principles into Your Daily Life, Moving Forward
The 7 Kwanzaa principles are not meant to only be discussed during Kwanzaa and then forgotten; they are meant to be incorporated into our day-to-day lives throughout the entire year. The celebration is meant to introduce us to them, and for those who’ve already learned about and practice them, to remind us of their importance and reflect on how we can best continue to do so. When you practice these principles, they will genuinely nourish, protect, and uplift you, your family, and your community.
How are you planning to celebrate this year?
Share your plans/ideas with us so we can build together (IG: @theliberationlab / email@example.com)
Wishing you an abundance of love, light, and joy. Thanks for reading!