HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Monday marked the first day of Kwanzaa, a week-long holiday celebrating African-American culture, heritage and family. 

Kwanzaa focuses on seven guiding principles. The first day of Kwanzaa is Umoja, which means unity starts every December 26. 

The seven principles are Umoja (unity), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith). 

The seven principles are to meant be followed throughout the year and seven different candles are lit to represent those principles. 

While much of the focus of this past holiday week is on Santa Claus, menorahs and the winter weather, some consider Kwanzaa as just as important as all of the end-of-year American holidays.  

Kwanzaa was created in 1965 during the Los Angeles Watts Riots between the police and the black community. Civil rights activist Maulana Ron Karenga created a celebration for a time to unify the black community. 

Khadijia Mbacke, who organizes a Kwanzaa candle celebration at the Bridge Street Towne Center, told News 19 that Kwanzaa is meant to include people of all religions. If you observe Christmas or Hanukkah you can also celebrate Kwanzaa. 

“It started off for the African community to lift their self-esteem, but it became even more important when we realized everybody is affected by those seven principles,” Mbacke said. “We need to utilize those seven principles and implement them in everything we do.” 

The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Karenga chose Swahili as the language of the festivities because it is a Pan-African language, not necessarily defined by a particular region or tribe. 

Celebrations include performances and good, cultural food.

More information about the holiday and when and where local celebrations are being held can be found here.