Kwanzaa starts the day after Christmas and runs until January 1. The holiday celebrates African heritage and the principles of unity, self-determination, cooperation, and faith. Whether you celebrate Kwanzaa each year or would like to honor and support those that do, holding your own socially distant or virtual Kwanzaa celebrations and inviting others to join in is a great way to usher in 2021.
Before we get into Kwanzaa traditional decorations and ways you can honor the holiday in your home, I’d like to share my personal story. My husband is a nomad from the Sahara region of Morocco in Northern Africa. Within the Sahara desert, dozens of tribes come together from different origins. Arabs, Berbers, Saharawis, Tuaregs, and sub-Saharan Africans all coexist. He wasn’t familiar with Kwanzaa when we met, but we spend every holiday among family and friends of all backgrounds in the desert. Together, we’ve started celebrating Kwanzaa, as it’s the perfect way to honor our different cultures and religions in a secular, inclusive way.
That being said, Kwanzaa is not a commercial holiday. It’s a time of togetherness, gratitude, and setting intentions for the future. We come together to reflect on Kwanzaa’s principles of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to decorate for Kwanzaa, although it’s always fun to fill your home with the wonderful, vibrant colors that represent the holiday and African cultures.
Kwanzaa decorations to make your celebration festive
1. Display a Kinara candle holder.
Lighting a candle every night of Kwanzaa and reflecting on one of the seven principles is a good way to honor the tradition. You can simply have seven candle tapers in the colors of red, black and green handy and light one each night. Or have your very own Kinara candle holder.
2. Decorate with a Kwanzaa-themed table runner.
The Kwanzaa table on Karamu can be fun and festive with a few simple touches. Corn is an important symbol, representing fertility and the harvest. If you still have your dried husks and pumpkins from the Thanksgiving table, add them to your Kwanzaa table or fireplace mantel with a colorful runner beneath.
3. Use Kente fabric to make a wreath.
Show others you celebrate Kwanzaa and support its principles by hanging a wreath made of Kente cloth, the traditional fabric of Ghana, at your front door. You can make a wreath yourself by wrapping Kente cloth around a wreath mold purchased at a craft shop. Add harvest-related touches such as dried corn husks or pheasant feathers. You can also make other Kwanzaa ornaments using this method.
4. Have fun with Kwanzaa photo booth props.
This year, social distancing limits get-togethers. You can incorporate the principles of unity and creativity in your smaller or virtual Kwanzaa get-together. Create a makeshift photo booth with Kwanzaa props in your home for your family and roommates to make memories together.
5. Stay safe with Kwanzaa masks.
COVID-19 has made the mask a necessary item. Why not incorporate a festive mask in Ankara, Kente, or other types of African fabric? There are many styles of masks available on Amazon, or if you can sew, you can make your own.
6. Make coronavirus-friendly Kwanzaa gift bags.
Continuing on with the theme of a safe and socially-appropriate Kwanzaa, consider your health and the health of others as a top priority. On the last day of Kwanzaa, you typically give small meaningful gifts, known as Zawadi. You can make small gift pouches and include hand sanitizer, masks and wipes as part of your gift. Display these gifts in a big bowl as a colorful centerpiece for your dinner table!
7. Get crafty with a Kwanzaa garland.
Garland makes for a versatile decorating accessory. You can add it to your Christmas tree, hang it on the wall, drape it across your fireplace mantel and more. Look for garlands in the Kwanzaa colors of red, black or green, such as this paper garland on Amazon. Or make your own with help from the kids by using colorful beads, fabrics, or construction paper.
8. Put up paper party decorations.
One of my simplest and favorite ways to decorate for Kwanzaa is by stocking up on paper party decor at the local party store. The items are inexpensive, lightweight and fold flat, which is perfect for when I travel. We like to hang the decor on poles and in the nomadic tents, although they don’t last long — the kids love to take them to play with. This Kwanzaa decoration kit is available on Amazon.
9. Keep it simple with a seven principles pillow.
The Nguzo Saba 7 principles pillow is a great addition to your living room to help remind you and others of the meaning behind Kwanzaa. It’s printed with the Kinara candle holder and the seven principles in both Swahili and English.
10. Add flair to your dinner table with Kwanzaa-inspired cloth napkins.
Create a special occasion during Kwanzaa — even if you’re eating takeout — by using cloth napkins. The washable napkins shown are colorful, geometric, and festive! Even if you’re serving on plain white dishes, a fun napkin adds the perfect touch to your table.
The bottom line
Kwanzaa is a time of celebration when everyone, regardless of race and faith, can come together as a community. Take the time to consider how you can honor your origins — or the origins of others in your community — by holding your own socially distant or virtual Kwanzaa festivities or participating in existing ones. Decorating is simple, and can be a fun activity for everyone in the family to get involved in. Take this creative time to reflect on the principles of Kwanzaa, what they mean to you, and how you can apply them for the following year.
Frequently asked questions
Are there special decorations for Kwanzaa?
If you’d like to follow the traditional customs, some special decorations you should include in your decor are the mkeka mat (which symbolizes a strong foundation), the kinara (which is a candle holder featuring red, black, and green candles), corn (which represents the harvest and fertility), and a wood chalice (which represents unity).
What are traditional Kwanzaa colors?
The traditional Kwanzaa colors are red, green, and black. You can also incorporate other colors, especially if you’re using African-inspired prints.
How do you make a mkeka mat for Kwanzaa?
Making a mkeka mat for Kwanzaa is a fun activity, especially if you can involve kids in the process. The simplest way is by using cut strips of construction paper in different colors to weave. Lay out six strips vertically, equally spaced apart. Take one strip and start weaving it horizontally over and under each vertical strip. Using a glue stick, glue the spot where the strip weaves under the vertical piece secures everything in place.