What Are Kwanzaa and Hanukkah?

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Most people know about Christmas, how it’s celebrated and why. But many people don’t know anything about Kwanzaa or Hanukkah.


Kwanzaa was formed during a time of racial unrest. It is a weeklong celebration that represents African-American heritage and culture. Millions of people within the U.S. observe Kwanzaa yearly, from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. During the week, families will give gifts to one another, feast, and light candles to honor their ancestors.

Kwanzaa was formed in 1966 which is the year after a historic rebellion rocked the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. The community was enraged by years of abuse from the police, so they protested and rioted. The unrest lasted a week and resulted in 34 dead and 1,000 injured. During the weeks after the Watts rebellion, Maulanga Karenga — an activist and leader in the Black Power Movement — founded an organization to rebuild the neighborhood. The organization was promoting a cultural revolution that would inspire pride in Black history and achievements that have been continually suppressed and dismissed by white culture.

The purpose was to create a holiday for African Americans to honor their African roots and reaffirm their cultural connections. Each day of Kwanzaa represents something different; there is:

  • unity (umoja).
  • principles of self-determination (kujichagulia).
  • collective work and responsibility (ujima).
  • cooperative economics (ujamaa).
  • purpose (nia).
  • creativity (kuumba).
  • faith (imani).


Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, which is also referred to as the “Festival of Lights.” Hanukkah starts on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev and it’s celebrated for eight days and nights. Each night, families say prayers and then light an additional candle in a menorah (eight-branched candelabra). Most families also serve special holiday foods, sing songs, play games and give gifts including Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins).

Hanukkah is about enjoying time together, more than any other Jewish holiday (others are still about spending time with others). Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the oil, so it’s traditional to eat fried foods like latkes and sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts dusted with confectioners’ sugar) during the celebration. Latkes are pancakes made out of potatoes and onions, which are fried in oil and served with applesauce. The dreidel is also played on Hanukkah nights.

I hope this taught you something new about these holidays and how people celebrate them.