Decorating for Kwanzaa

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Maulana Karenga, a prominent African-American professor, author and activist, created Kwanzaa in 1966 as the first specifically African-American holiday. Celebrated from December 26 to January 1 each year, Kwanzaa is a time for African-Americans across the country to take pride in their community, families and history. The holiday is not a religious occasion, but combines features from many harvest festivals traditionally celebrated in Africa.

Each day of Kwanzaa focuses on a different principle. They are:

  • Unity
  • Self-determination
  • Collective work and responsibility
  • Collective economics
  • Purpose
  • Creativity
  • Faith

Living Room Kwanzaa Decor

In the main room of your home, decorate with Kwanzaa flags, called bendera ya taifa. This is a wonderful craft for your children to make. Simply start with a large sheet of construction paper, and draw straight lines to divide it into three equal, horizontal sections. Have your children use markers, crayons or paint to color the top section red, the middle section black, and the bottom portion green. Hang the bendera on the walls facing east.

DIY Kwanzaa Centerpiece

On your dining room table, mantel or counter, spread a woven straw mat, called a mkeka. This symbolizes the foundation of the African people, and forms the base for your Kwanzaa display. You will set several holiday items on the mkeka.

Set up a Kinara

A kinara is a seven-pronged candleholder, for the seven days of Kwanzaa. You can buy a kinara, or make one out of clay with your children. The kinara holds seven candles, called the mishumaa saba. The three candles on the left are red, to represent struggle, the candle in the middle is black, to represent the African people, and the three candles on the right are green, symbolizing hope. The black candle will be lit on the first night of Kwanzaa, followed by the rest of the candles on the consecutive nights, going from left to right. The kinara sits on the mkeka.

Display Harvest Symbols

On top of the mkeka, lay an ear of corn for each child in the family. If you do not have children, then place two ears of corn to represent the children of the community. You will also display mazao, a basket of fruits, nuts or vegetables to symbolize the family and community working together productively.

Set Out the Unity Cup

The kikombe cha umoja, or unity cup, represents family and community. It is usually a wooden chalice, though if you cannot find one, you can substitute a wineglass. The unity cup plays an integral part in the karamu feast held on the sixth night of Kwanzaa, December 31, when each member of the family will sip wine or grape juice from the cup and recite a blessing.

The Children Get Gifts

Along with the candles, cup and harvest bowl, set small wrapped gifts for your children on the mkeka. These gifts will be opened on the last day of Kwanzaa, and traditionally encourage creativity and education. Art supplies, science kits, books and crafts are all good choices.

Use African Art Throughout the Room

Once you have your mkeka set with the traditional pieces, decorate throughout the rest of the room with African art. Use a variety of items such as:

  • Flags
  • Tribal masks
  • African fabrics
  • Baskets
  • Sculptures

Let your children assist by decorating the room with red, green and black streamers, balloons or ribbons. You may not have observed Kwanzaa before, but this tribute to community pride is a wonderful way to bring your family together in a celebration of African-American family, community, history and culture.

Last Updated: December 16, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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