Kwanzaa in Maryland

December 27, 2017
by Maryland Humanities

Kwanzaa has officially been a holiday for more than half a century.

Fifty-one years since its inception, Marylanders have surely heard of the holiday that happens around Christmas and Hanukkah each year; however, the vast majority probably is not aware of the holiday’s main principles, or that Kwanzaa has Maryland roots.

In 1941, the creator of Kwanzaa, Dr. Maulana Karenga was born in the town of Parsonsburg, located in Wicomico County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He created Kwanzaa in 1966 while a professor of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach.  Dr. Karenga’s goal in creating Kwanzaa was combining harvest celebrations and other cultural aspects such as dance, music, storytelling, and crafts of different African tribes in order to bring the African-American community together for the seven day celebration.

Kwanzaa is celebrated for seven days (December 26–January 1) to correspond with seven principles, known as Nguzo Saba collectively, and each day of Kwanzaa represents a different principle: day one highlights unity (Umoja); day two, self-determination (Kujichagulia); day three, collective work and responsibility (Ujima); day four, cooperative economics (Ujamaa); day five, purpose (Nia); day six, creativity (Kummba); and day seven celebrates faith (Imani).

Those who celebrate Kwanzaa say they do their best to spread the seven principles year-round. For instance, the Youth Kwanzaa Collective of Baltimore’s Youth Resiliency Institute works to bring books written by black authors to children, youth, and young adults. Also, the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture works to bring presentations about Kwanzaa to diverse audiences, both young and old, and across ethnicities, all hoping to help unify the community.

 A couple titles for adults are Kwanzaa: The Seven Principles by Rod Terry and The Complete Kwanzaa: Celebrating Our Cultural Harvest by Dorothy Winbush Riley. There are also Kwanzaa cookbooks and crafts books available for all ages. If introducing Kwanzaa to a child, there are children’s books that are available at many local libraries on the holiday including Together for Kwanzaa by Juwanda G. Ford, My First Kwanzaa by Karen Katz, The Story of Kwanzaa by Donna L. Washington, and Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis. Adults will be able to appreciate the information regarding the holiday and the phonetic spelling of the Swahili words.

Some public library systems in Maryland have Kwanzaa related programs. Throughout the month of December at various branches throughout Baltimore City, high school teacher Charles Dugger will present the principles of Kwanzaa. Other Kwanzaa celebrations in the state include one on December 30th at the in Catonsville. Also, on December 30th, for a $5 fee, see Dr. Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa himself, give the presentation “Practicing the Principles of Kwanzaa: Repairing, Renewing and Remaking Our World” at the   in Baltimore.

Kwanzaa may not be a widely celebrated holiday, but it is a special, peaceful holiday with Maryland roots. Hopefully in 2018, there can be more celebrations throughout the state.

Source: staff. “Kwanzaa.”, The History Channel, 2009,

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