Maulana Karenga wanted to come up with a way to unify the black community following this event. As a professor and chairman of black studies at California State University, Dr. Karena combined several elements of his teaching to create this new holiday. He came up with the name “Kwanzaa” from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza which means “first fruits of the harvest.” Karenga chose a Swahili phrase because it’s a language that isn’t defined by a particular region or tribe in Africa.

Karenga combined aspects of different African harvest celebrations, in particular the Ashanti and the Zulu. While there are similarities between Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, the practices are obviously distinct. Kwanzaa lasts 7 days and is represented by a Kinara, a 7-candle holder that has 3 green candles on one side, a black candle in the center, and 3 red candles on the other side. Each candle represents one of the 7 principles of Kwanzaa, known as Nguzo Saba; unity (umoja), self determination (kujichagulia), collective responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani). The black candle is the first one lit.

The extra ‘a’ at the end of Kwanzaa is typically added so that there are 7 letters total, each representing a different principal.