Create a List

List Name

Rename this List
Save to
Back to the Top Teaching Blog
December 16, 2010 Celebrating and Learning About December Holidays, Part 3 — Kwanzaa By Nancy Jang
Grades 1–2


    What is Kwanzaa? It is a celebration of African heritage in America. There are many symbols and traditions associated with Kwanzaa that honor African heritage. Join me as we learn more about this December holiday.





    What is Kwanzaa? It is a celebration of African heritage in America. There are many symbols and traditions associated with Kwanzaa that honor African heritage. Join me as we learn more about this December holiday.




    Kwanzaa cup
    Kwanzaa corn
    Kwanzaa fruit Kwanzaacandle  Kwannzaa table


    Symbols of Kwanzaa

    During Kwanzaa, homes may have tables set with a tableau of symbols that honor their African heritage. A special candle holder, or kinara (kee-nar-rah), has seven candles: three red, three green, and one black. Red represents the  struggle of their ancestors, green represents prosperity in the future, and black represents the color of their skin. Also on the table is a unity cup. Every night when the candles are lit, each family member drinks from the cup. A few drops are spilled to represent and honor their ancestors. An ear of corn is put on the table to represent each child in the family, and a bowl of fruit is placed on the table to represent the crops and Earth's abundance. All of this is placed on the mkeka (em-KAY-kah), a mat that represents tradition.

    History of Kwanzaa

    Kwanzaa is a nonreligious holiday that is celebrated from December 26 to January 1. The dates correspond with African harvest celebrations. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, the chair and professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach. It commemorates the harvest celebrations held by African cultures that have been observed for hundreds of years. Many cultures have a tradition of celebrating the first harvest, and in Swahili, the word Kwanzaa means "First Fruits of the Harvest." 

    Kwanzaa was not meant to be a replacement for Christmas, but to be a time of contemplation and celebration of African culture. There are seven principles that guide the celebrations: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. During Kwanzaa, one candle on the kinara is lit each day to represent the principle being recognized that day.

    Seven Easy Ways to Celebrate and Learn About Kwanzaa

    1. Weave a mkeka paper mat. 
    The paper mat tutorial can be found at Enchanted Learning. Again, the woven mat represents tradition.

    Here are instructions for another version of a Kwanzaa mat that is painted before it is woven.


    2. Make a Kwanzaa vest.
    I precut a vest shape out of a paper grocery bag and turned it inside out so that the outside of the vest was brown and any printing was on the inside. We painted the vest with red, green, and black tempera paint and let it dry overnight. Then we used sponges to create African inspired patterns on the vest.

    3. Download the seven principles of Kwanzaa from Scholastic Printables and make a Kwanzaa journal.
    Every day of Kwanzaa, discuss the principle for that day and brainstorm with the students about different ways that you can apply the principles of Kwanzaa to everyday life.

    4. Watch a quick video about the history of Kwanzaa and learn a quick and easy Kwanzaa song on the Scholastic Web site.


    5. Make a kinara.
     With Craft Club, kids can make their own kinara with a paper plate, markers, and construction paper. Click on the link for a quick video tutorial on how to make the kinara. You can make a real kinara from wood, like the one I made to show my class, using items found on Michael's wood craft aisle. 

    6. Give a handmade Kwanzaa gift. We create unique necklaces from colored pasta and give them to our Little Buddies. I usually will make one bag of red-colored pasta and one bag of green and leave one bag uncolored for them to use on the necklaces. When creating a necklace, I require my students to use a repeating pattern of their choice. You can also add or substitute beads to the necklace if you wish.

    To create the colored pasta, take any kind of tube-shaped pasta and put one to two cups into a one-gallon baggie. Add 1/4 cup of rubbing alcohol and about ten drops of food coloring. Seal the bag and shake well. If you leave the pasta in the bag longer, you will get a deeper color. Once you are happy with the color, spread the pasta on some newspaper and let it dry overnight. Use yarn or string as the base of your necklace and then tie one end to a folded pipe cleaner, plastic coffee stirrer, or half a straw. This will be used as the needle to help string the pasta and keep the yarn from fraying.

    7. Read Kwanzaa Books! No unit of study is complete without wonderful books to read aloud to the students. Check out these books to get great background information about Kwanzaa and learn more about the holiday. K Is for Kwanzaa by Juwanda Ford is a great book for helping with the pronunciation of the Swahili words for each of the principles and with the symbols of the holiday.


    Well, I hope that you enjoyed learning about Kwanzaa. Have a wonderful, restful holiday season and enjoy your time off.

    Happy teaching,



Share your ideas about this article

My Scholastic

Susan Cheyney