Downtown Celebrates Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa 01

If someone asks you Habari Gani? in the next few days, it’s because he or she is practicing one of the customs of Kwanzaa by asking for the news in Swahili. While it’s common knowledge that Christmas falls on December 25, few know that Kwanzaa follows on December 26, or that the celebration lasts seven days. Ellis Rice, a local musician and actor, helped demystify the celebration by outlining Kwanzaa’s history and basic tenets at a presentation held last Sunday at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. The program is part of the Las Vegas Cultural Corridor’s “December to Remember” events, and continues on December 28 and 29 at the LVNHM.

Kwanzaa, Ellis explains, means “first fruits of the harvest” in Swahili, and was developed by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 after the American scholar and activist noted that the Pan-African community, unlike many cultures and ethnicities, lacked a holiday that celebrated the essence of who they were. While many of the tenets are rooted in ancient African customs, Ellis said that the holiday is open for everyone to celebrate.

“Anyone who has a family, a community and a culture can universally celebrate the principles of Kwanzaa,” Ellis says, noting that the celebration is not a religious one. “You don’t have to give up Christmas to celebrate Kwanzaa.”

The Nguzu Saba, or the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, are Unity, Self Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. On each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa, a principle and its meaning and implementation are discussed within the family after lighting a candle contained in a kinara, or candelabrum. The kinara is kept on a special table laden with other objects of symbolism, including a straw mat (foundation), corn (children), a drinking vessel (unity) and fruit  (labor and harvest).

Kwanzaa 02

The week is a time of rejuvenation and reverence, Ellis says—a time to look back on progress made that year and to reconnect with family. It is also a time to consider one’s own role in society and reflect on how best to contribute and help others.

“Discover your purpose,” says Ellis. “That’s what Kwanzaa’s about.”

Kwanzaa celebration and education will continue at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum on Dec. 28 at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and on Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. Call (702) 384-3466 for more information or visit


Vegas Seven