7 Facts You Didn’t Know About Kwanzaa

Brush up on this by-the-numbers breakdown of the December fest.


​Part of the trifecta of holiday celebrations, Kwanzaa has one distinctive difference from Christmas and Hanukkah: It’s not a religious occasion. Instead, it is a celebration that allows millions of people to acknowledge their Pan-African and African American roots. In fact, it may be more apt to compare it with our American Thanksgiving since it celebrates early African harvests, and its name means “first fruits” in Swahili. Yet it gets confused with the other holidays since it starts on December 26 and extends through January 1.

Founder Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University at Long Beach, says, “It’s a time of sustained reflection on the moral and expansive meaning of being African in the world.”

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Here’s a look at the holiday, by the numbers:


Foods that might be part of a traditional Kwanzaa feast include Koki, an appetizer made of black-eyed peas; peanut soup; the main dish, Jollof rice; okra and greens, a popular side dish; Chinua Achebe, another side dish made with sweet potatoes; a fruit salad for dessert; and ginger beer.


Colors symbolize the holiday: black, red, and green.


Gifts that are traditionally given to children: a book and a heritage symbol.

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The year that the first US postal stamp honoring the holiday was issued.


Principles represent the holiday’s deepest values: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.


Years ago, in 1966, the holiday was first celebrated.


Ingredients are key to the holiday’s traditional sweet potato pie: sweet potatoes, candied pecans, and coconut.

Related: Enjoy These International Holiday Desserts in the Hudson Valley

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