HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The 26th of December is the first day of Kwanza. It lasts until the first of January which makes it a seven-day celebration.
There are seven principals that are to be followed through the year, and seven different candles to represent those principles.
Today is Umoja which stands for unity.
"Lighting ceremony today with the black candle, which represents the people"
The holiday is not to take the place of Christmas which is the 25th, and not to take over Hannukah which is 9 days instead of 7.
"You know all over the world, this is a pan African celebration," said the organizer of the candle lighting ceremony, Khadijia Mbacke. "But for all of us to come together. So today and all the days you see me, you may see any ethnicity in there."
The group is also big on helping the homeless, and ask for warm clothing donations at the rest of their events.
Kwanzaa is based on traditional African harvest festivals.
Maulana Karenga, a professor of Pan-African studies at California State University at Long Beach, created the holiday in 1966 to be a nonreligious celebration of family and social values.
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.
Karenga created Kwanzaa as a way for African-Americans to reconnect with ancestral roots by introducing and celebrating African culture. The intent was for the holiday to expand and be celebrated by people with African ancestry all over the world. This celebration of family, community and culture is built around the Nguzo Saba, or the Seven Principles.
Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of seven principles: unity (umoja), self-determination (kuji chagulia), collective responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba) and faith (imani).
Each night celebrants light a new candle on the kinara, a seven-branched candelabra. The seven candles, one black, three red and three green, represent the people, the struggle and the future, as well as the seven principles. Gifts are often given to children.
On December 31, participants engage in a feast known as the karamu, which can include steps such as a kukaribisha (welcoming), kuumba (remembering), kushangilla (rejoicing), tamshi la tambiko (libation statement), kutoa majina (calling of names), the karamu feast and tamshi la tutaonana (farewell statement).