Kwanzaa Lesson for Kids: Facts & Traditions

Instructor: Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

Kwanzaa is a holiday celebrated from December 26 to January 1. In this lesson, learn about the history, symbols, and traditions people perform when honoring the holiday of Kwanzaa.

Happy Kwanzaa!

After December 25, you may notice some Americans lighting candles, wearing special clothes, and participating in ceremonies. They are honoring the holiday of Kwanzaa! This holiday is celebrated for seven days (remember the number seven, it's important!), from December 26 until January 1.

History of the Holiday

Kwanzaa was created by a man named Maulana Karenga. He was a college professor in California, and in 1966 he wanted to honor the African culture in America. He created the holiday to celebrate the heritage of Africans, and he used parts of an African word to create the name. Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili word, and it roughly means 'first fruits.'

The founder of Kwanzaa, Maulana Karenga, attends a first fruits ceremony.
Ceremony with Kwanzaa founder


You remember that the number seven is important, right? There are seven symbols of Kwanzaa and they each have special meaning. The first symbol is a mat, and it is used to place the other six symbols throughout the week-long celebration. Next is a kinara, and it is a candle holder. The next symbol is the seven candles that are placed in the kinara, and they are typically red, green and black. The fourth symbol is crops like fruits and vegetables, and the fifth is maize, or corn.

Maize, or corn, is one of the seven symbols of Kwanzaa.
Symbol of Kwanzaa

A unity cup is another symbol, and it represents that it is important to show appreciation for the African ancestors that lived long ago. Finally, gifts are the last symbol of Kwanzaa.


Just like there are seven symbols, there are also seven principles. These are ideas and values that are important to those celebrating Kwanzaa. Remember the kinara that holds seven candles? Each day, one candle is lit, and afterwards families and friends discuss the principle of the day.

One candle is lit each day on the kinara, and families discuss the Kwanzaa principle of the day.
Kwanzaa candles

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