Your guide on how to celebrate Kwanzaa in Birmingham

birmingham kwanzaa
Here’s why you should celebrate Kwanzaa. Photo via Birmingham Kwanzaa

This time of year is filled with holidays and a great one to celebrate is Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a time for African-American/Black-American families to come together in unity and become in tune with our past, present and future. Here are details on what it means and how you celebrate Kwanzaa in Birmingham.

What is Kwanzaa?

Birmingham Kwanzaa
Here’s what you need to know about this cultural holiday. Photo via Birmingham Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African-American culture that is held from December 26 to January 1. It is a nonreligious and nonpolitical holiday started by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 as a way to connect us to the values and culture of Africa.

Kwanzaa is derived by the Swahili word kwanza meaning “first” from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” that means first fruit of the harvest. Dr. Karenga added a seventh letter, an extra ‘a’, to make the word long enough to accommodate one letter for each of the seven children that were present at an early celebration.

There are seven principles centered around Kwanzaa. Those principles include:

  • Umoja [Oo-mo-jah] meaning unity
  • Kujichagulia [Koo-gee-cha-goo-lia] meaning self-determination
  • Ujima [Oo-gee-ma] meaning collective work and responsibility
  • Ujamaa [Oo-jah-ma] meaning cooperative economics
  • Nia meaning purpose
  • Kuumba [Ka-um-ba] meaning creativity
  • Imani meaning faith

What are the traditions?


Traditionally arranged on a table is Mishumaa Saba [mee-shoo-MAH-ah SAH-ba], the seven candles of the kinara (candleholder) that represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa. There are three red candles that represent our struggle for freedom, three green candles that represent land and hope for the future and one is black that represent people of African descent.

On each day, a family comes together to light one candle and discuss the principle for the day. Along with the seven candles, there are six other symbols of the holiday. The symbols include:

  • Fruits, veggies and nuts
  • A straw mat
  • A candleholder
  • Ears of corn (maize)
  • Gifts
  • A communal cup (signifies unity)


You can’t have a holiday celebration without food, can you? A Kwanzaa meal can be whatever you want it to be, however there are a few traditional dishes with symbolism, black-eyed peas and collard greens. Black-eyed peas symbolize good luck and collard greens symbolize fortune.

Here are a few popular foods that would be perfect for your Kwanzaa feast:

  • Candied yams
  • Jollof rice
  • Fried plantains
  • African peanut stew
  • Cornbread
  • Fried okra
  • Hoppin’ John
  • Sausage and chicken gumbo
  • Jerk chicken

You can learn more about these dishes here.

Here’s how you can celebrate in Birmingham

There are eight local events celebrating Kwanzaa happening from December 18 to January 1 in Birmingham. Here are a few that I think you should check out.

  • Sunday, December 26: Birmingham Kwanzaa Umoja/Unity @ Crescent Cultural Center. 6PM. Free.
  • Monday, December 27: Birmingham Kwanzaa Kujichagulia/Self-Determination @ Davis Event Gallery. 6PM. Free.
  • Tuesday, December 28: Birmingham Kwanzaa Ujima/Collective Work & Responsibility @ Boutwell Auditorium. 6PM. Free.
  • Wednesday, December 29: Birmingham Kwanzaa Ujamaa/Cooperative Economics @ Five Points West Library. 6PM. Free.
  • Thursday, December 30: Birmingham Kwanzaa Nia/Purpose @ Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (VIRTUAL). 6PM. Free.
  • Friday, December 31: Birmingham Kwanzaa Kuumba/Creativity @ Crescent Cultural Center. 6PM. Free.

“At Birmingham Kwanzaa, we want to educate our community on their culture and reach those that normally wouldn’t celebrate. We want to reach everyone including Afrocentric people, Intellectuals, Black professionals, young professional, Hip-Hop community and more, so we can learn more about our culture and one another.”

Clarence Muhammad, Chair, Birmingham Kwanzaa

Do you know of any more Kwanzaa events happening in Birmingham? Tag us @BhamNow on socials and let us know.

Tira Davis
Tira Davis
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