The holiday season may be most immediately associated with Christmas, but that certainly isn’t the only occasion celebrated in December. Kwanzaa is a wintertime celebration focusing on African-American heritage, held annually from December 26 to January 1. Started in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Kwanzaa is modeled after African harvest celebrations and aims to build cultural identity and community among African-Americans. Whether you’re interested in celebrating your family’s personal heritage or simply teaching your kids about cultural awareness and diversity, here are some fun, kid-friendly ways to observe and honor Kwanzaa.
What Is Nguzo Saba?
Symbolism and ceremony are integral parts of Kwanzaa. Celebrants start by decorating a table with the Mkeka (a ceremonial straw mat) and items like Mazao (crops), Kikombe cha Umokjya (the unity cup), and Zawadi (gifts) to represent the collective labor and the fruits of the harvest. Mahindi (ears of corn) placed on the table also represent the children within a family.
The Kwanzaa table is also adorned with what may be the most recognizable symbols of the celebration—the Kinara (candle holder) and Mishuumaa Saba (seven candles), which represent each of the Nguzo Saba.
The Nguzo Saba (the Seven Principles) refer to the standards of personal and social excellence that African-American people should live by. These principles are:
- Umoja (Unity): The importance of togetherness within a family and a community
- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): The need to define and ability to speak for one’s self
- Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): The acknowledgment of each person’s role in society and responsibility to other members of the community
- Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): The need for mutual support to meet the community’s common needs
- Nia (Purpose): The collective vocation among participants to build and develop the community
- Kuumba (Creativity): The need to use one’s talents and skills to maintain a vibrant community
- Imani (Faith): The enduring belief and commitment to one’s community, culture, struggle, and purpose
Celebrants meditate on one principle each day of Kwanzaa. With young ones, you can explain these Kwanzaa principles by sharing folktales or watching shows about African-American heritage geared towards kids.
Meanwhile, ask your pre-teen or teenage children to research Black history and present what they find during the celebration. You can also exchange personal stories that help illustrate these principles.
Introduce Kwanzaa Through Crafts
Kwanzaa is all about family togetherness, so what better way to kickstart the holiday than a crafting session? Arts and crafts are a great way to exercise your little one’s creativity. If it’s your first time celebrating Kwanzaa, this is a fun and interactive approach for the kids. Try out some of these crafting activities:
- Kid-Friendly Kinara: Kids and candles are not the best pairings. So, making a DIY Kinara with household items is a perfect way to involve your kids in the celebration sans the fire hazard. An egg carton Kinara or paper plate Kinara are some super easy (and safe) options.
- Modern Kinara: Families with older kids can probably pull off more complicated craft projects. Consider a more modern take on homemade Kinaras, like using painted glass jars instead of candlesticks. Try your hand at candle-making and have fun experimenting with different candle molds or scents.
- Kwanzaa Kikombe Cha Umoja. The Kwanzaa Unity Cup is traditionally made of wood, but there’s nothing wrong with adding some embellishments. Use a colorful goblet, add some painted designs, decorate it with beads—the sky is the limit.
- Paper Mkeka. Creating your own Mkeka out of paper is as simple as cutting colored paper into strips and weaving them together. You can even pre-cut the paper for your younger kids, so they won’t need to handle scissors.
Sing Kwanzaa Songs and Play Traditional African Musical Instruments
Kwanzaa is a meaningful occasion that celebrates themes kids might not fully understand yet. Singing songs—like Kwanzaa is Here, Kwanzaa Celebration, and O Kwanzaa—is a great way to introduce them to the principles and traditions associated with the festival.
Another way of incorporating music into your Kwanzaa celebration is introducing the kids to traditional African instruments—and perhaps even making them yourselves! Some of the easiest traditional instruments to make are:
- Rainstick: Meant to mimic the sound of falling rain, this percussion instrument is traditionally made using hollowed-out dried cacti branches that are filled with stones or pebbles and capped at both ends. However, you can easily make rainsticks at home using a sturdy cardboard tube, paper bags, rubber bands, and grains of rice.
- Shekere: Akin to the rainstick, shekeres are percussion instruments made from dried vine gourds filled with beads or pebbles, and covered in a net of woven cowries. At home, however, a DIY shekere will only require a bottle-neck or pear-shaped container, crochet threads, and some beads. Use permanent markers and poster paint to decorate your homemade shekere.
- Djembe Drum: This classic rope-tuned, skin-covered goblet drum is often played with bare hands. You can recreate this instrument with some items that you may already have at your disposal. For instance, you can create mini versions of the Djembe using paper cups, sturdy plastic, rubber bands, and some string.
Celebrate Kwanzaa for Kids With the Help of a Babysitter
Kwanzaa is a fun and enriching holiday, and a great way to bring the family together for some quality time. However, as with any holiday, preparations can get hectic. Between meal prep, decorating, and work and parental duties, juggling your responsibilities may leave you too tired to enjoy the festivities. Hiring a babysitter to keep the kids company while you run errands can take a significant weight off your shoulders. If you’re scrambling this holiday season, consider using a babysitting app like Nanno.
Nanno provides access to on-demand, pre-vetted babysitters near you. All you have to do is download the app, enter your information, specify your requirements and book your appointment. After that, Nanno will match you with a sitter in just 15 minutes. Considering how the app’s network of sitters extends to most U.S. metro areas, you’re sure to find an excellent option!
Nanno conducts a thorough four-step vetting process involving background checks, credential assessments, and skill evaluations, so you know your little ones are in good hands. Whether you need to run errands, prep for a gathering, or simply need to take some childcare responsibilities off your plate for an afternoon, you can count on Nanno to help you out. Sign up today!