This blog post was updated on December 12, 2022.
Kwanzaa is fairly new as far as holidays go — it was created in 1966 by activist Maulana Karenga and his wife Tiamoya as a chance for Black Americans to rediscover and affirm their African roots and bring their communities together. But young though it may be, Kwanzaa is nonetheless packed with history and tradition. The holiday takes place from December 26 to January 1 every year, and focuses on honoring the African-American culture through various traditions and events.
There are seven principles associated with Kwanzaa, including collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, creativity, faith, purpose, self-determination, and unity. Seven candles are placed in a special candleholder called a Mishumaa Saba and one candle is lit each night. At the center of the candle holder, is a black candle, which stands for unity, while three red candles signify the struggles that the African-American people have faced and three green candles represent hope for overcoming these struggles.
Celebrations often include dancing, singing, poetry, dramatic performances, and traditional foods. Many cities and communities across the United States have events for anyone interested in participating in the festivities. Here are just some of the best U.S. cities to visit for celebrating Kwanzaa.
New York City
Many residents of New York City come together to celebrate Kwanzaa. There are so many activities that it’s virtually impossible to participate in all of them. For starters, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, there concerts, dance shows, and special family-friendly activities. Across the East River, there are celebrations at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and a songwriting workshop at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music.
Because the city is so well connected by mass transit, you can easily get to and from each event. If you do end up visiting New York to celebrate Kwanzaa, make sure you see some of the many street performances and indulge in a lot of the traditional Kwanzaa food from the various vendors.
A lot of the Kwanzaa events that take place in Houston focus on bringing people together while keeping the heart of Kwanzaa’s principles at the center of all of them. The temperatures in Houston during Kwanzaa tend to be fairly mild for winter, so a lot of the festivities are held outside. This allows visitors to enjoy a variety of musical and theatrical performances in the open air, as well as street vendors to ply their wares selling traditional foods and memorabilia.
The events tend to be fairly numerous and diverse, so there is always something for everyone to enjoy. There’s a pre-Kwanzaa holiday market know as the Buy-Black Marketplace. There usually are numerous ceremonies held throughout the city each night where visitors can watch the lighting of Kwanzaa candles.
The home of some iconic Kwanzaa events, the Chicago draws travelers from many parts of the world in December to experience the celebration. Colleges, museums, and churches all participate in the week-long festivities. A lot of the activities focus on collective work and creativity. This is a great city to experience Kwanzaa for those who are interested in art, who want to take part in activities that will allow them to give back to the community, or who are looking for events that their children will enjoy. Chicago is fairly easy to get around on public transit or walking, so visitors can easily get to each event.
You Might Also Enjoy: Where to Learn About Black History AND Enjoy the Outdoors
Los Angeles is an ideal destination for those that want to enjoy some warmer weather during Kwanzaa. Many of the events held during this time focus on highlighting Black-owned businesses in the area. One popular activity is a driving tour to see the work of legendary African-American architect Paul Revere Williams, who is responsible for designing some of the most well-known buildings in Los Angeles. Williams’ designs include the Beverly Hills Hotel and the LAX Theme Building. And since the city is home to many celebrities, you will often see famous faces making appearances at many of the local Kwanzaa events, some of which they even sponsor.
The city of Atlanta had just a few Kwanzaa celebrations in years past, but the number of activities offered has really grown in size and many of these celebrations are quite unusual. There tend to be a lot of live performances, art installations, and activities for children to learn more about the African-American culture. There’s positive energy throughout the Atlanta area during this time that really encompasses the unity at the center of Kwanzaa. It’s not uncommon for people to come from all over the country to take part in all seven days of celebrations.
Know of any other U.S. cities to visit for Kwanzaa? Tell us about them in the comments!