Kwanzaa traditions and symbols

Kwanzaa traditions and symbols

During the holiday season, Kwanzaa gives us the chance to connect with our families in even more deep and meaningful ways. It’s a time to reestablish our place in the world and with each other as families, friends and communities—brothers and sisters connected by culture, history, faith and tradition. The seven symbols of Kwanzaa are integral to the Kwanzaa celebration and reinforce our commitment to community, family and unity.

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The 7 symbols of Kwanzaa  

  • Mkeka: a mat
  • Mazao: fruits and vegetables
  • Muhindi: ears of corn
  • Kinara: a candleholder
  • Mishumaa saba: the seven candles
  • Kikombe cha umoja: the unity cup
  • Zawadi: the gifts


This year as your family gathers around your table to place your ancestral cloth, lay the mkeka, place the mishumaa saba in the kinara and light a candle, ask each person to reflect aloud how family keeps us rooted. Sharing written personal sentiments reflecting on what each principle of the Nguzo Saba means to each loved one as you light a candle every evening may make the gathering even more special.

The mazao are a reminder of the harvests that nourished the people of Africa and offer an opportunity to show respect for the people who labored to grow them. As you lay out muhindi symbolizing our children and our hopes for them, you can reflect on our cultural wisdom that all children belong to the community. It truly “takes a village” to raise well-loved children, protect their innocence and strengthen their resilience.

Passing the kikombe cha umoja, pouring libation to the ancestors, is a wonderful time to honor the elders by exchanging stories, songs or poems about them. These trailblazers and torchbearers created our heritage and include immediate family, community and national leaders from the past and present.

Finally as you give zawadi (books, teaching toys, homemade works of art or food) this Kwanzaa season you could also give “zawadi of the heart.” Offer written pledges of support, tolerance, patience and love for the upcoming year.