Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration of Black American people, culture, and African ancestry. The holiday takes place from December 26th-January 1st each year. Each day of the Kwanzaa holiday focuses on a different principle those celebrating are meant to study and explore. There are daily activities, community events, and readings aligned to the principles. At the end of each day, a meal is shared and candles on the Kinara, one of the essential symbols of Kwanzaa, are lit. Other Kwanzaa symbols include the unity cup, the woven mat, and the crops for the table.
The holiday was founded in the late 1960s amidst movements for civil rights and Black liberation and for many people is still deeply rooted in freedom and resistance. Like many other cultural holidays, however, it also has a complicated history. At the same time the collective effort to create the Kwanzaa holiday was taking place, Maulana Karanga, who is often credited as the sole founder of Kwanzaa, was abusing women within his movement and sabotaging other Black liberation movements as an informant for the FBI. Kirsten West Savali did an important piece about revisiting and reconciling Karenga’s legacy for The Root in 2017 which you can read here. For our family, this reconciliation comes in our honest recognition of this history, our centering of Black woman familial and cultural ancestors in our celebration, and our commitment to a liberation that includes all the marginalized within our communities.
My children are 5 and 3 and this will be our third year celebrating Kwanzaa together, a tradition carried on from my partner’s maternal family. I view our family Kwanzaa celebration as an opportunity for grounding and healing as we leave one year and enter into the next. We take stock of where we are going and where we have been. We connect with our ancestors and have conversations with our children about both the African American and Liberian cultures they were born into. We spend time together as a family and we read a lot of books as part of our teaching the Kwanzaa principles. It occured to me in planning for our Kwanzaa this year, that sharing our process, and the books we read in particular, could be helpful to other families.
The tabs below explain what each principle is, the books we’ll use to discuss them, and the questions we’ll pose during reading. Books are selected based on what we already have in our children’s library. I hope they are useful to anyone else celebrating with young children this year and in future.
Unity: To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race
Questions: What does it mean to be connected to someone else? What does it mean to have unity? What is Kwanzaa and why do we celebrate?
- Book 1: “K is for Kwanzaa” by Juwanda G Ford
- When we first decided to start a family Kwanzaa tradition, we went to our local library to check out books for guidance and found “K is for Kwanzaa”. This alphabet picture book is useful for anyone trying to learn about both the Kwanzaa symbols and the ways the holiday weaves in African ancestry. It’s the perfect book for framing the week and we loved it so much we purchased our own copy after returning the borrowed one to the library.
- Book 2: “Head, Body, Legs” by Won-Ldy Paye and Margeret Lippert
- This book is a Liberian folktale about the parts of the body finding each other and learning to work together. Our children love the story and it is a great one for introducing the concept of unity.
If you read through this much, thank you so much! I hope you found a new title or two for your home library. Two final books I will recommend are ones we use to discuss cultural ancestors each day of the holiday: “Pass It On: African American Poetry for Children” by Wade Hudson & Floyd Cooper and “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic” by Jestine Ware & Sonja Thomas. Happy reading and Joyous Kwanzaa!