Never heard of Kwanzaa? Despite being a little-known holiday in the UK, it’s a very important celebration for many communities across the United States, with more and more people choosing to mark this week-long celebration on our side of the pond too. Before we look at how you can get involved, let’s take a look at exactly what Kwanzaa is and why it’s commonly celebrated among African-American communities.
What is Kwanzaa?
Kwanzaa is a yearly festival that celebrates African-American culture by bringing together communities and helping people connect with their roots.
The first event of its kind took place in 1966 hosted by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a well-known activist and professor. Karenga’s mission with Kwanzaa was to provide African-Americans with an alternative holiday to Christmas which would allow the black community to celebrate their cultural heritage.
The word ‘Kwanzaa’ comes from the Swahili saying “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits”. In South Africa, the summer solstice is honoured at a similar time of year, and you’ll spot many nods to harvest festivals in the principles and symbols relevant to Kwanzaa.
When is Kwanzaa and how is it celebrated?
Kwanzaa celebrations traditionally begin on 26th December and last up until 1st January. Every family celebrates it in their own special way, but there are some elements which remain the same in almost every community.
For starters, most households will decorate their homes in colourful cloths, light candles and perform music and libations. On 31st December, a feast known as Karuma is usually held too.
It’s worth noting that every day of Kwanzaa corresponds to a different principle relating to African history and culture. These seven things are: unity, self-determination, community and responsibility, co-operative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
How you can mark Kwanzaa too
Kwanzaa is still more of a holiday in America where it was first established over 50 years ago. But there are still many communities across the UK who also mark the occasion.
While most Kwanzaa celebrations tend to take place privately in the home, why not enjoy a meal at one of the following restaurants which all serve up sensational food from a range of African countries?
Red Sea Liverpool
You’ll spot this brilliant restaurant on Lodge Lane, just beyond Liverpool’s Georgian Quarter, and its specialties are Eritrean and Ethiopian cuisine. Expect lots of rich meaty stews flavoured with fragrant spices.
There’s plenty to suit vegetarians too, including shiro – a type of stew made with ground chickpeas. It’s worth booking a table at Red Sea Liverpool as it’s very popular, especially on weekends.
Chakalaka, Manchester Manchester has no shortage of restaurants serving up delicious African cuisine. You’ll find this particular venue within easy walking distance of Manchester Piccadilly Station.
Chakalaka is on Oldham Street in the Northern Quarter and its bright, welcoming exterior is matched by a wholesome menu of South African-inspired dishes and drinks. Dig into a bowl of bunny chow, a plate of sosaties (skewered meats) or bangers and mash made with boerewors sausages.
Olam - D Kitchen, Sheffield
This Sheffield-based eatery serves up a whole range of mouth-watering African dishes. Typical options at Olam - D Kitchen that will definitely satisfy your stomach include jollof rice, tender goat meat curries, grilled fish with plantain and fried chicken.
House of Jollof, Newcastle
This cosy dining venue is a short walk from Newcastle’s train station, and it has a fantastic menu of West African (mostly Nigerian) dishes that are sure to make your taste buds tingle.
As well as flavoursome jollof rice, you’ll spot tempting meat-based stews, spicy suya wings, veg soups and various fish dishes featuring plantain. Finish off your meal at House of Jollof with some yummy puff-puffs – African doughnuts tossed in sugar.
There are plenty of other festivities happening this December too. Why not take a look at our guide to celebrating Hanukkah or discover our round up of all the best Christmas markets across the North and Scotland?
And if you’re travelling to one of the many events held in cities across our network, remember to book your train tickets in advance and get ready to celebrate this December.