Kwanzaa is a holiday where African Americans celebrate their beautiful culture and honor their ancestors through seven days of reflection. Held just after Christmas, many people don’t know or understand the meaning of Kwanzaa and why millions celebrate it in homes across the nation. For those living in and around Portland, there are local ways to celebrate and participate in Kwanzaa festivities while supporting and embracing the black community. If you’re looking to celebrate and learn about Kwanzaa around Portland, here are a few options for you and your family. 

What Is Kwanzaa?

Before you can celebrate Kwanzaa, it’s essential to understand the holiday’s origins. Kwanzaa, Swahili for “first fruit,” began in 1966 by its creator Maulana Karenga. Honored from December 26th – January 1st, this week-long holiday celebrates the start of the harvest season in Africa and focuses on self-reflection and growth. A common misconception about Kwanzaa is that it aims to take the place of Christmas for African Americans; however, Mr. Karenga made it clear that it is not a religious holiday. So many people choose to participate in both Christmas and Kwanzaa.

On each day of Kwanzaa, participants light a candle in the Kinara, beginning with the center black one known as the Umoja or unity candle. At the end of the seven days, the holiday culminates in a feast where families come together and celebrate. Gifts known as Zawadi are given to children to symbolize a parent’s love and loyalty and the commitment of children. The seven candles represent the following reflections:

  • Unity (Umoja)
  • Self-Determination (Kujichagulia)
  • Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima)
  • Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa)
  • Purpose (Nia)
  • Creativity (Kuumba)
  • Faith (Imani)

Ways To Celebrate And Learn About Kwanzaa Around Portland

There are many fun and exciting ways to celebrate and learn about Kwanzaa in the Portland area. Whether your family has participated in Kwanzaa festivities for years or this is your first time, you will love the memories you create as you honor the beautiful African American culture.


Like any other holiday, one of the best ways to get into the spirit is decorating. Choose the traditional Kwanzaa colors of red, black, and green and proudly place them around the house. You can set up a Mkeka or woven mat, an ear of corn, fruits, and a Kinara or unity cup for an authentic Kwanzaa display. 

Read A Book

There are many wonderful books for all ages that explain Kwanzaa and honor the proud history of the African American community. For children’s Kwanzaa books, consider “My First Kwanzaa Book” or “The Story Of Kwanzaa.” Adults would love “African Americans Of Portland,” a wonderfully written book on the history of African Americans in the region. The Portland Library has many options available for all ages to learn about the history and deep-rooted meaning of Kwanzaa. 

Watch A Movie

Everyone loves movie night, and what better way to spend it than learning about Kwanzaa. There are many incredible documentaries you can watch, or the highly acclaimed movie Black Candle, that documents the struggles the African American community has fought and overcome and how Kwanzaa represents that. 

Visit An African American Museum

To truly understand and appreciate how meaningful Kwanzaa is, you can visit an African American museum. The Oregon Black Pioneers Museum is about a half-hour outside of Portland and aims at “preserving the history of black Oregonians.” Walking through the rows of historical information and artifacts brought to life before you will give you a sense of awe and pride for the struggle black Oregonians have fought through and how they refuse to let their voices fade. Kwanzaa will take on a greater meaning when you see up close the struggle others endured so we can celebrate this holiday together. 

Take Part In A Local Celebration

There is nothing as extraordinary as joining together alongside others as you celebrate and honor Kwanzaa together. Kwanzaa On Killingsworth is a cultural celebration and artisanal market with local vendors, live music, spoken word presentations, and more. Enjoy the festivities and celebrate culture and tradition with your entire family. 

Support Black Companies

One reflection of Kwanzaa is Ujamaa or cooperative economics, which you can easily participate in by supporting black-owned companies. You can download this Black Owned Business Directory for Portland-based businesses that are proudly black-owned! 

If you’re in the Portland area, there are many fun and exciting ways to celebrate Kwanzaa. Join together with your family and the African American community as you honor and enjoy this meaningful and magical holiday. 

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