Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

Kwanzaa is almost here! And Kwanzaa educator Jessica “Culture Queen” Hebron is on a mission to equip parents to introduce children to its festive traditions, as well as support families already celebrating. Culture Queen’s hallmark is crafting experiences that leave kids humming with positivity and enthusiasm for themselves and African American culture. 

“If you’re trying to find yourself and you’re trying to figure out what it means to be black and American or African American, [Kwanzaa celebrates] very uplifting, positive, universal principles that you can try to follow and align your life with to give yourself self-empowerment,” she says.  

From breaking down myths surrounding the holiday to explaining the history behind it, Culture Queen has you covered with three ways you can celebrate Kwanzaa with your children and start new traditions together this year. 

Educate Your Children—and Yourself!—on the History and Significance of Kwanzaa 

If you have questions about the Kwanzaa tradition, you’re not alone. There are lots of common misconceptions about the holiday, from people assuming it’s a religious ritual to wondering if it’s even a “real holiday” at all. 

In this post on five Kwanzaa misconceptions, Culture Queen breaks down the history and significance of this holiday and why it’s an important day for all black Americans. 

“The principles were created to be universal for black people in America,” she says. “So no matter what their religious experiences or cultural experiences, they have one thing that they can unite with—Kwanzaa.”

Before celebrating in your own home, discover the rituals associated with this special celebration—contrary to popular belief, gifts are encouraged!—and spend time discussing its history and significance with your children.  

Read Picture Books about Kwanzaa Together

Kwanzaa’s use of the Swahili language, a formal table setting, and a candle lighting ritual can intimidate newcomers, so Culture Queen recommends that people of all ages first learn about the holiday through picture books. The illustrations, examples, and simple wording make the holiday accessible and engaging.

She shares her favorite five picture books that show families living the seven principles of Kwanzaa. These are: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).

For young readers, she recommends It’s Kwanzaa Time: A Lift-the-Flap-Story for an engaging, age-appropriate introduction to the holiday. If you have little ones with longer attention spans, Kevin’s Kwanzaa goes deeper with short encyclopedia-like info boxes that provide rich context and history.  

Discover three more Kwanzaa books that kids of all ages will enjoy. (Plus, if you’re looking for more holiday reads, don’t miss our roundup of seasonal picture books by black authors that we think will become beloved family favorites.) 

Bring the Holiday to Life

Giving Kwanzaa the magical, glittery treatment other holidays receive will make the celebration truly come to life for your kids. 

So, how do you go about doing that? Culture Queen suggests returning to your favorite traditions year after year—reading picture books, sharing history, and so on—and also adding new ones, as well. Whether that’s incorporating rituals you haven’t tried before or creating your own Kwanzaa candle holder together, introducing new ideas keeps the celebration exciting and engaging for the whole family. 

In this blog post on how to celebrate Kwanzaa, Culture Queen shares her own memories of her first Kwanzaa, as well as how she celebrates every year.  

We hope these articles will help you and your family celebrate Kwanzaa if you’re already fans of the tradition, or learn about something new together if you’re just discovering its history and rituals. 

And remember, MayaSmart.com is your one-stop-shop for raising a reader, from evidence-based early literacy advice to fun activities that support key literacy learning and recommendations of great reads (like the ones in this post). So go ahead and browse around the site for more tips and tutorials, or message Maya with your questions or activity requests! We’re so happy to have you here!

Do you celebrate Kwanzaa? Will you this year? What are your favorite Kwanzaa family traditions? We’d love to hear from you!