Holidays abound. One that’s gotten a lot of attention in the past few years is Kwanzaa, a celebration in the African-American community.


The black candle in the center of the kinara is lit on the first night, the three red candles to the left are lit on days 2-4, and the three green ones are lit on days 5-7.

Photo Credit: Eva Monheim

Kwanzaa Centerpiece

Use a variety of fruits and vegetables to enhance your Kwanzaa centerpiece.

Photo Credit: Eva Monheim

Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which translates to “first fruits.” The ancient African “first fruits” holiday lasts seven days to correspond with Seven Principles (known as Nguzo Saba in Swahili). When the modern holiday was created in the US by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966, the extra “a” was added to the name so there would be seven letters in it – corresponding with the seven children with ties to the original founding of the celebration.

Dr. Karenga developed the holiday to introduce and strengthen the Seven Principles of African culture in the African-American community despite different religious beliefs, nationalities, socioeconomic classes, ages and generations. The Seven Principles (listed in the order of the night their candle is lit and celebrated) are:

  1. December 26, Umoja or “Unity”
  2. December 27, Kujichagulia or “Self-determination”
  3. December 28, Ujima or “Collective work and responsibility”
  4. December 29, Ujamaa or “Cooperative economics”
  5. December 30, Nia or “Purpose”
  6. December 31, Kuumba or “Creativity”
  7. January 1, Imani or “Faith”

The holiday begins with the lighting of the kinara (candleholder). On the first night, which is always December 26, the center black Unity candle is lit, and family and friends gather around after the lighting to discuss the meaning of the principle. On each consecutive night, an additional candle is lit for that evening (starting with the first red candle on the left, then moving toward the left), and people discuss the principle of that particular day.

If you’d like to have your own Kwanzaa celebration this year, it’s not difficult to create a beautiful and meaningful kinara centerpiece. One of the many wonderful aspects of this holiday is that you pull from nature to help create your display.


  • Kinara (candleholder for seven candles – you can also make your own using a choice log with seven 1-inch holes drilled in the top, arranged in a long row)
  • 7 candles (3 red, 1 black, 3 green – Mishumaa Saba)
  • Straw mat (Mkeka)
  • Fabric in red, black and green (signifying African colors) to cover the table
  • Fruits and vegetables (Mazao)
  • Several ears of corn or Indian corn – you can leave the husks on (Muhindi)
  • Bowl-type basket
  • Unity Cup (goblet-type is nice) (Kikombe cha Umoja)
  • African carvings (optional)
  • Book or other gifts related to the Seven Principles (Zawadi – optional)

After arranging your table covers, place the straw mat on top. Insert the seven candles into the kinara, with the three red candles to the left, the black candle in the center and the three green candles to the right. Place the kinara on top of the straw mat, along with the cup.

Next, set the basket on the mat next to the kinara, and add a large fruit (like a mini-watermelon) to hold the basket in place. (I like to try to incorporate native fruits and vegetables of Africa, like yams.) Arrange the fruits and vegetables to spill out of the basket to give your centerpiece the look of an abundant harvest. Don’t forget to add the corn to signify future generations.

If you have an African sculpture that’s significant to you, add it to the arrangement as well. And consider including a book or other gifts that are significant to the Seven Principles. This adds an extra-special touch.

Then sit down with your friends and family for the seven-day celebrations. It’s a great time to talk about what each of the Seven Principles means to you, as well as appreciate the bounty of goodness that nature provides us – all signified in your display.