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Kwanzaa and Christmas: Top 7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know


Christmas is the most prominent holiday in December, but did you know that Kwanzaa also takes place during the same period? Even so, Kwanzaa and Christmas have different traditions. The former focuses on cultural beliefs and practises and the latter is religious based. Nonetheless, both bring people together, inspire a joyous, celebratory mood and hold an important place in their celebrant lives. In this post, we’ll share more details about these events.

An explainer of Kwanzaa. Video Credit: HuffPost

Colors of the Events

spotcovery-Decoration balls with different Christmas colors-Kwanzaa and Christmas
Decoration balls with different Christmas colors. Source: Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Red and green are the Christmas colors although pop culture has given significance to the colors white, blue, gold and silver. It’s believed that red symbolizes the blood of Jesus Christ and green, eternal life or a change of season. 

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That said, from a psychological and marketing point of view, red attracts attention, and green is a good complementary color. 

Gold stems from the Three White Men who brought ‘gold, frankincense and myrrh when Christ was born. Additionally, gold is a symbol of wealth, which is why it’s used in celebrations.

White represents purity and hope. If you’re in a snowing country, it represents the freshly fallen snow. If not, you have plenty of white in your decorations. 

Kwanzaa’s colors are red, green and black. 

  • Red denotes the bloodshed during the struggle of African Americans.
  • Green demonstrates hope for their future.
  • Black represents the people. 

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Both events have a significant number of decorations involved. For Christmas, the marquee piece is the Christmas tree with all its additions: light bulbs, snowflakes and balls. People also add wreaths and Christmas-themed household items, buy the Santa Claus attire and more. 

During Kwanzaa, decorative pieces will have colors and symbols that represent the event, a poster of its principles and a flag colored in red, green and black. 

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spotcovery-Wrapped gifts-Kwanzaa and Christmas
Wrapped gifts. Source: Photo by Eugene Zhyvchik on Unsplash

Kwanzaa and Christmas take different approaches when it comes to the exchange of gifts. It’s one of the biggest traditions practised over the Christmas holidays which has ultimately led to its commercialization. 

For Kwanzaa, gifts aren’t a major part of the celebration. When given, they are handed to the family and should align with the African culture. 

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Time Frame

Another difference between Kwanzaa and Christmas is the length of the holidays. Christmas is a 12-day affair, from 25th to January 5th, while Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration. It starts from December 26 to January 1. Each day is represented by one of the seven Kwanzaa values.  

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Means of Observance

Christian faithful mark Christmas by: 

  • Attending a church service.
  • Family get-togethers. 
  • Watching and listening to Christmas-themed movies and music. 
  • Buying gifts.
  • Putting up decorations. 

Kwanzaa is marked by: 

  • Music.
  • Drumming.
  • Dining together
  • Lighting a candle.
  • Reading and reciting poems.

Origins of Kwanzaa and Christmas

Both events have interesting origins. Christmas dates back to the Roman and Pagan cultures. The Pagans observed two holidays in December – Saturnalia and the birth of Mithra. Additionally, they sat around fires during the dark winter nights. This is something that Romans incorporated into their culture. 

Although Christianity spread in Europe and other parts of the world, the influence of the Pagans was strong. Since no one knew when Jesus was born, the Romans adopted the Pagan holiday to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

The Watts riots or rebellion of 1965 inspired Maulana Karenga to start Kwanzaa to unite African Americans. This holiday was based on the African Harvest festival – Kwanzaa, a term derived from the Swahili term ‘Matunda ya Kwanza’ or first fruits. The first Kwanzaa was marked in 1966 and enters its 57th year in 2023. 

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Purpose of the Holidays

Although Kwanzaa and Christmas are celebrated around the same time, the purpose of the events is different. Christmas is a religious holiday, meant to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, meant to celebrate African culture and heritage.

You can celebrate Kwanzaa and Christmas together. The former doesn’t replace the latter. Both events are similar and unique in their ways. Hopefully, this article helps you to understand each better. 

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