Kwanzaa dinners usually feature African-American dishes along with Caribbean, African and South American specialties. Save your biggest showstoppers for the feast of Karamu, celebrated on the sixth night of Kwanzaa, December 31.
Start your meal with okra gumbo or an African stew. Roast beef, lamb kabobs or jerk chicken or pork make a delicious centerpiece for your Kwanzaa feast.
Accompany your main dish with hearty sides like corn casserole, red beans and rice, sweet potato soufflé and fried okra. Round out the meal with zucchini bread, sweet potato pie and benne cakes (West African sesame cookies).
Ginger Beer (serves 6 to 8)
Despite its name, this West African drink is non-alcoholic. You can spice it up by adding a shot of rum to each glass. Note: In this recipe the ginger must steep for 24 hours before serving.
- 6 cups water
- 1 pound fresh ginger, peeled, coarsely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
- 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar or white sugar
- 1 lime, cut into 6-8 wedges, for garnish
Bring 6 cups water to boil in large saucepan. Finely chop ginger in processor. Transfer chopped ginger to large glass or ceramic bowl; add boiling water and stir to blend. Cover loosely with foil; let ginger mixture stand at cool room temperature 24 hours.
Strain ginger liquid into large pitcher; discard solids in strainer. Add sugar to liquid and stir until sugar dissolves. Fill glasses with crushed ice and pour ginger beer over ice. Serve each glass of ginger beer with a lime wedge to squeeze over the top.
Kwanzaa traditions center around the seven principles of the holiday, one for each night.
The celebration begins each night with someone calling out the greeting “Habari gani?” (“What’s the news?”). Everybody responds with the name of the principle for that night.
The candles of the kinara are then lit in a specific order. The first night, the black candle is lit. For each subsequent night one more candle is lit, from left to right.
The Seven Nights and Principles of Kwanzaa:
December 26 Umoja (Unity)
December 27 Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
December 28 Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
December 29 Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
December 30 Nia (Purpose)
December 31 Kuumba (Creativity)
January 1 Imani (Faith)
The sixth night, December 31, features a large feast called Karamu. On the final night, a farewell statement is given; everybody takes a final drink from the unity cup and the kinara candles are extinguished.
Kwanzaa is a family affair, so choose activities that honor and celebrate your nearest and dearest.
Put together a family scrapbook: Ask guests to bring their favorite photos and small, special mementos from the year and organize them into a scrapbook.
Let your creativity shine: Group sing-alongs, poetry readings and dance performances get the joint jumpin’ and keep everybody in the holiday spirit.
Create a family tree: Round up relatives to help you map out your family tree.
Make jewelry: String African beads into colorful necklaces and earrings. These will make gorgeous additions to your Kwanzaa set as well as great gifts.
Decorate your home in the traditional colors of the holiday — green, red and black — using streamers, balloons and African prints. Display African art objects, textiles and maps on tables and walls. Most importantly, set aside a special place for your Kwanzaa set.
A Kwanzaa set, which includes the traditional symbols of Kwanzaa, should be the centerpiece of your Kwanzaa celebration. Place these items on a low table or on the floor, in a central location of your party area. Place colorful floor pillows around the table for guests to sit on.
How to display your Kwanzaa set:
- Cover a table with an African cloth that is green, red and black.
- Place a large mat (called a mkeka) on the cloth. The other items will then be placed on, or around, the mat.
- Put the Kwanzaa candleholder (kinara) on the cloth, and add the seven candles (mishumaa saba): one black, three red and three green. The black candle goes in the center, the green candles to the right of it and the red candles to its left.
- Crops (mazao), usually represented by various colorful fruits and vegetables, are then placed on the table, along with ears of corn. The corn symbolizes children; there should be an ear of corn on the table for each child in the family. If there are no children in your home, place two ears on the table to represent the importance of children to the community.
- The next item you display is your unity cup (kikombe cha umoja).
- Lastly, round out your display with traditional Kwanzaa gifts (zawadi): books, African art objects and handmade items.