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Kwanzaa Candle Meanings and Symbolism

Sally Painter
Kwanzaa celebration

The meanings and symbolism of Kwanzaa candles reflect the African American and Pan-African holiday. There are seven candles placed in the official candle holder, kinara, which supports the mishumaa saba (seven candles). Each candle represents one of the seven core principles (nguzo saba) of Kawaida philosophy.

Mishumaa Saba and Seven Candles

Mishumaa Saba and Seven Candles

Kwanzaa is a celebration of family, community and culture. There are three official Kwanzaa colors: black, red, and green. There are seven candles: one black candle, three red candles, and three green candles. Each candle represents one of the seven principles guiding Kwanzaa. These are placed in the mishumaa saba in a specific order. Each candle is lit on a specific day of the Kwanzaa seven-day celebration.

Day One (Umoja): Unity, One Black Candle

The principle that the black candle represents is the concept of unity. The focus is on the unity of family, community, nation, and race.

  • The candle represents the African American and Pan-American peoples.
  • It is placed in the center of the mishumaa saba.
  • This candle is always lit first on the opening day of Kwanzaa.

Three Red Candles

There are three red candles, each representing a separate principle. These candles are placed to the left of the black candle in the mishumaa sava. These three principles include:

  • Day Two (Kujichagulia): Self-determination is the second principle. It represents defining, naming, creating, and speaking for oneself. This is the second candle lit.
  • Day Three (Ujima): This is the third principle and is defined as collective work and responsibility. This encompasses building and maintaining the community by working together, taking on each other's problems, and solving them together. This is the third candle lit.
  • Day Four (Ujamaa): This is the principle of cooperative economics. This encompasses building and maintaining individually owned stores, shops, and other businesses. The goal is to profit from these endeavors as a community. This is the fourth candle lit.

Three Green Candles

There are three green candles, each representing a specific principle. These candles are placed to the right of the black candles and the last ones lit.

  • Day Five (Nia): This is the principle of purpose and takes on the collective vocation of building the community and developing it as a way to restore African Americans and Pan-Americans to their traditional greatness. This is the fifth candle lit.
  • Day Six (Kuumba): This candle celebrates the principle of creativity. The goal of this principle is to do everything possible to make a difference and leave the community in better condition than what was inherited. This is the sixth candles lit.
  • Day Seven (Imani): This is the principle of faith. It challenges people to believe in each other and honor their struggle as righteous and that they'll be victorious. This is the last candle to be lit. All seven candles are lit on this day.

Proper Lighting Order

On the first day of Kwanza, light the black candle in the center of the mishumaa saba.

  • The correct order for lighting the remaining candles is to start on the far left and light the red candle.
  • The candles are then lit from left to right.

Where to Place the Kinara

Where to Place the Kinara

The kinara (kee-NAH-rah) has a special designated place during Kwanzaa. A table is set at the beginning of the celebration on day one.

  1. Spread an African cloth over the table.
  2. Set the mkeka (mat) on the table on top of the tablecloth along with the traditional symbols that represent the African heritage.
  3. The kinara is then placed on the mkeka at which time the mishumaa saba (seven candles) are added to the kinara.

Type of Candles to Use

The candles selected for the majority of Kwanzaa celebrations are tapers. The most popular kinaras support taper candles. That doesn't mean you're limited to only using taper candles.

Understanding the Symbolism Behind Kwanzaa Candles

You can receive greater insight and appreciate for the Kwanzaa celebration when you know the candle meanings and symbolisms. Once you know what each candle represents, you can pray and/or meditate on its meaning the day you light it.

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Kwanzaa Candle Meanings and Symbolism