Get back to your roots with a lit Kwanzaa celebration

A Kwanzaa invitation surrounded by wine, candles, and books.
Paperless Post BlogHolidays > Get back to your roots with a lit Kwanzaa celebration

In the African American and Black communities, Kwanzaa celebrates African heritage and ancestry and promotes unity, community, and working towards common goals. Each December, many African American families honor their culture and ancestors with a joyous Kwanzaa celebration that incorporates meaningful Kwanzaa traditions and community service. This weeklong holiday provides countless opportunities to celebrate, leaving you plenty of time to get those Paperless Post Kwanzaa invitations out to friends and family for an unforgettable Kwanzaa party or event. 

Looking to shine light, happiness, and peace on your own Kwanzaa celebration? When you borrow ideas from Kwanzaa’s seven principles and its traditions, you’ll find so many ways to create a memorable Kwanzaa dinner, celebration, or party that truly honors your African heritage. To follow are some ideas to help you get back to your roots with a meaningful and fun Kwanzaa celebration full of joy, togetherness, and community.


Left: A Kwanzaa invitation featuring a Kinara candleholder and other symbolic items. | Right: Close up shot of a Kinara candleholder with people celebrating in the soft-focus background.

Kwanzaa Wreath” by Paperless Post.

Who celebrates Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which translates to “first fruits,” or harvest celebration. Its celebrants are primarily African Americans in the United States, though this non-religious holiday is also celebrated by those of African descent living in locations outside the United States, like the Caribbean. 

When is Kwanzaa celebrated?

Kwanzaa lasts for seven days beginning on December 26 each year. It culminates in one of the most popular Kwanzaa traditions, a Karamu feast on December 31st. Each night of Kwanzaa, friends and family gather to explore each of the seven principles, or “Nguzo Saba,” and light one candle on the Kinara (candleholder) that each represent culture, African heritage, and the seven principles.


Left: A woman prepares a Kwanzaa table. | Right: A Kwanzaa invitation featuring an illustration of people dancing in African clothing.

Kwanzaa Dancing” by Paperless Post.

Why is Kwanzaa celebrated?

At its core, Kwanzaa is about remembering one’s roots while reflecting and working towards a better future for the Black community. You can focus on unity, community, and striving for goals and purpose for yourself, for others, and for Black people as a whole. You can also incorporate your own reasons and traditions to make your own Kwanzaa celebration special for you and your community.

What are some Kwanzaa traditions?

When you’re planning a Kwanzaa party, you’ll find great ideas and inspiration in the many wonderful traditions that date back to its founding in the 1960s. Kwanzaa’s founder, author and scholar Dr. Maulana Karenga, created Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of the Kwanzaa celebration, and modeled them on African first-fruits harvest festivals. You can’t go wrong with any of the below traditions at your own Kwanzaa celebration.


The seven principles of Kwanzaa. Each night of Kwanzaa focuses on a different principle, Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (working together for the common good), Ujamaa (supporting Black-owned businesses and ventures), Nia (striving toward a better future for the community), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith in Black community). If you’re only throwing a party on one night of Kwanzaa, you can choose its theme from one of the seven principles and build out your activities from there. For example, a Kuumba night could focus on arts and crafts with your kids or even throwing an African fashion show. Think of the seven principles as a jumping off point for your own creativity!


Candle lighting. One of the most important Kwanzaa traditions is lighting the Mishumaa Saba (seven candles) in the Kinara (candleholder). A black candle in the center represents the Black community, flanked by three red candles on the left and three green candles on the right that represent hope and vision for the future. You should light one candle each evening as you honor each of the seven principles. Typically, Kwanzaa parties on December 26 will feature a candle-lighting ceremony, but you shouldn’t forget to make time for the Kinara no matter which night you’ll be hosting.


Greeting family and friends with “Habari gani?” Each night, family members welcome one another with this phrase, which translates to, “What’s happening?” Remember, the principle of the day is the only right answer here! 


 — Party decorations. It’s easy to get into the holiday spirit with elegant and bold African-inspired decor. Embrace the principle of Ujamaa and purchase decor from Black-owned businesses and the principle of Imani with a black, green, and red color scheme. You can greet your guests with a Happy Kwanzaa banner and serve your delicious feast on a mudcloth-inspired table runner. When it comes to dessert, get creative and add artistic toppers to your cake or cupcakes. 


 — Symbolic decor. Be sure to finish off your decorations with the symbolic decor of the holiday. Place your Kinara on a Mkeka, a placemat made from African mud cloth, Kente cloth, or straw. It’s symbolic of the foundation upon which we’ve built. Decorate the Mkeka with other symbolic items like Mazao (fruits, vegetables, and nuts) to represent the work and meaning of the Kwanzaa celebration and Muhindi (ears of corn) to represent each child in your family. 


 — Drink from the unity cup. During the Karamu feast, pass around the Kikombe Cha Umoja filled with either wine, water, or juice to promote unity. Don’t forget to pour out the remainder when everyone has had a drink to ceremonially honor ancestors and deceased family members. 


—  Exchange gifts. On the seventh day of Kwanzaa, you can exchange gifts, called Zawadi, that promote the principles of Kwanzaa. Gifts like journals to collect memories of the upcoming year, books, and African-themed items like bolga baskets are great for reminding kids and adults alike of the reason for the season.


Honor African traditions. Your celebration isn’t complete without steeping it in African heritage and traditions. You can pay homage by dressing in traditional clothing, reading and learning about your ancestry and history, and incorporating African music by dancing, singing, and drumming together.


As you prepare for your own Kwanzaa party, remember that at its core, this holiday is about community. Though your celebrations and traditions have likely changed in recent years to reflect the times we’re living in, you can still safely gather with family or friends for a Kwanzaa party or get-together. While you can of course send Kwanzaa greeting cards to those who live far away, here are some ideas to help you host a meaningful in-person celebration.


Animated image of a Kwanzaa invitation Flyer featuring green, black, and red graphics and gold type.

Habari Gani” Kwanzaa Flyer.

Kwanzaa party themes & invite wording

Now it’s time to plan an unforgettable Kwanzaa party of your own. Below you’ll find our favorite party themes to help you kick off your planning. Once you decide on your theme, you’ll want to send out invitations to your guests at least two weeks in advance (it’s a busy season, after all!). Don’t worry about what to write in your Kwanzaa invitation—we’ve got you covered there, too.


Kwanzaa invitation featuring a dashiki patchwork print in red, black, and tan.

Dashiki Patchwork” by Paperless Post.


Kick off a weeklong celebration by lighting the Kinara

Habari gani? Umoja! It’s the first night of Kwanzaa and what better way to celebrate than inviting family and friends to share in setting up the Kwanzaa table to represent community and familial unity. The lighting of the first candle of Kwanzaa—the black candle, representing the African American people—is the perfect way to kick off Kwanzaa and set the tone for the week ahead! We have more ideas to keep everyone entertained all night long:

— Host a family-friendly movie night featuring Black entertainers. Our favorites include Disney’s “Soul,” “Coming to America,” and “The Wiz” to put kids and adults alike into the festive spirit.

Family game night – there are countless culture-rich family-friendly games to incorporate into your Umoja celebration. You know your family best so we’ll leave it up to you. Will you dare challenge your competitive uncles to Spades this time around? Just remind them this holiday is about unity 😉

Please join the Pinckney Family as they light the Kinara for 


Saturday, December 28th

At Five O’Clock

1866 Vesey Way 


Bring your favorite family-friendly game to share with the group!


Kwanzaa invitation featuring illustrations of wrapped gifts.

Presents” by Paperless Post.


Celebrate Ujima with a food or toy drive

What better way to celebrate working together than giving back to your community? On Ujima night, gather all of your friends and family together for a wonderful potluck at your house, and ask guests to bring toy donations for the needy or canned goods for a local food drive. That way, guests can exchange their family recipes for their favorite Kwanzaa dishes and give back together. If you need help, we recommend searching Feeding America to find a food pantry in your area, or you can choose to donate unwrapped toys to Toys for Tots. We recommend including the information in your Kwanzaa invitations so your guests know what’s expected when they arrive. Your invitation can be welcoming and informative, like this:

Please join the Younger family for a

Joyous Kwanzaa Feast

Friday, December 26th

At six o’clock

17 Gilroy Court

In the spirit of Ujima, this is a potluck with some African American specialties. We welcome you to bring a dish, a drink, or dessert, and don’t forget to bring an unwrapped toy to donate!



A green Kwanzaa invitation featuring horizontal lines.

Ngazi” by Paperless Post.


Support Black-owned businesses with a gift exchange 

Host a gift exchange or gift-swap party—celebrate Ujamaa (cooperative economics) by gifting items from Black-owned businesses and plan a Kwanzaa party around it! Working together to lift up Black-owned shops, artists,  and businesses is a key component of the meaning of Kwanzaa. This is the perfect opportunity to incorporate the two by requesting guests purchase gifts from members of the Black community. This Kwanzaa party could be held on the final day of the celebration to celebrate Zawadi (purposeful gift-giving) with the exchange of handmade gifts.

You’re invited to 

participate in a gift exchange highlighting

Black-owned businesses and products!

Friday, December 27th at 8 p.m.

1218 Maple Street

Support your favorite Black artists and Black-owned businesses.

Party will be “Yankee Swap”-style so prepare accordingly!


Host a Karamu Feast to close out your Kwanzaa celebration

 A Karamu Feast is the perfect opportunity to get together with family and friends because it falls on New Year’s Eve. We’re brimming with ideas on how to host a Karamu dinner party, whether it’s your first time or you’re looking to spice things up this year.


Food and drink

— Serve a large pot of Black-eyed peas with enough for guests to take home. Black-eyed peas are a New Year’s Day tradition in the South, but who’s to say you can’t incorporate them during the Karamu Feast?

West-African Chicken Peanut Stew

New Orleans-style Gumbo

Sweet potato pie 

Stinger vintage cocktail

Hibiscus punch


Karamu feast activities

Celebrate Black artists, entertainers, and musicians by including poetry, music, and dance at your Kwanzaa party. Here are some ideas to get you started; encourage your guests to bring their favorite books, records, and poems along to share. 

Recite poetry. Highlight Black poets like Amanda Gorman and Langston Hughes by reciting their poems. Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” and “Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes are great starting points. Get kids to share their Kuumba (creativity) by writing and reciting their own poems.

Play music together. African drumming can be a big part of your celebration if you want to celebrate African heritage with music. Set out traditional African instruments like the djembe, mbirra, kalimba, and shekere (similar to maracas). Man can be found online, though you should beware of replicas or reproductions. If authenticity is important to you, be sure to seek out African or Black-owned brands. Let the kids showcase their Kuumba by laying out a crafts table with supplies to make their own handcrafted musical instruments. 

Host a Vision Board Party. Incorporate the principles of either Kujichagulia (self-determination) or Nia (purpose) by laying out materials for guests to create their own inspirational vision boards for the year to come. You can include something like the below in your invitation so guests know to bring supplies: 

Celebrate the Karuma Feast with us and create your own vision board, bring along old magazines so we can all share supplies to create a unique vision board for the upcoming year!


An animated Kwanzaa Flyer invitation featuring an illustration of a Kinara candleholder.

Lit Kinara” Flyer.

Planning your Kwanzaa party with Paperless Post

The holidays are a busy time of year, so if you find it challenging organizing yet another get-together, consider sending out Kwanzaa invitations for your celebration at least 2–4 weeks in advance.

With Paperless Post, you can choose from dozens of gorgeous cards and flyers for your Kwanzaa party. Not only will these creative and memorable invitations be sure to leave an impression, but they can also be sent entirely online—no trip to the post office needed. Plan your next Kwanzaa party today with a little help from Paperless Post. Heri za Kwanzaa!


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