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Turning Christmas and Thanksgiving Items into Kwanzaa Decorations

Decorating for Kwanzaa doesn't have to be expensive. If you decorate for Christmas or Thanksgiving, you already have many of the items you need to decorate for Kwanzaa. Planning for Kwanzaa should begin about the same time you start planning for Thanksgiving and Christmas decorating.

Kwanzaa, meaning “first fruits” in Swahili, reaffirms African-American heritage, pride, community, family, and culture. Celebrated for seven wonderful days from the day after Christmas to the new year, this culturally rich holiday, has many special decorating attributes to add to your holiday home, blending a multitude of activities, principles, and elements that are both modern and ancient.

So when preparing for your Karamu (Kwanzaa feast), don’t forget some of these kuumba (creative) ideas to decorate your home.

Not only does this holiday have specifics for decorating as described in the following table, you can draw inspiration and decorating ideas straight from Africa to include in your holiday celebration. Keeping these things in mind, you’ll never be at a loss for how to decorate.

Kwanzaa Inspirations
Colors Fabrics Botanicals Accent Items
Black African print fabrics Corn Kinara (candleholder)
Red Kente cloth Vegetables, any kind Mkeka (mat)
Green Natural cottons or linens Fruits, any kind Candles
Gold or yellow Kuba raffia cloth Dried grasses Kikombe cha umoja (communal unity cup)
Brown Raffia Baskets
Orange Bamboo African art and artifacts
Purple Bendera (African flag), beads, masks, carvings

Keep in mind, though, that you do need some basic supplies that are specific to Kwanzaa. Check out the following tips to organize and plan for your Kwanzaa decorating:

  • Repurpose red and green items from Christmas: Red and green are the colors of Kwanzaa, so you may want to invest in solid-color items such as napkins, tablecloths, planters, and so on, so that you can use them for both Christmas and Kwanzaa.

  • Repurpose harvest items from Thanksgiving: Harvest items you may readily find at Thanksgiving, such as corn, wheat sheaves, gourds, and squashes can be pulled into Kwanzaa as well. Just make sure you repurpose only vegetables and fruits. Put the cornucopia away! It’s only associated with Western holidays and is not part of African culture.

  • Gather basic supplies for Kwanzaa: The following are basic supplies you need to celebrate Kwanzaa:

    Mkeka (place mat usually woven of straw or raffia)

    Kinara (candleholder)

    Mishumaa saba (seven candles ¯ one black, three green, three red)

    Mazao (fruits and vegetables representing crops)

    Vibunzi (one ear of corn for each child in the household)

    Kikombe cha umoja (communal unity cup)

These items are the staples you should never be without when decorating for Kwanzaa. You’ll be adding zawadi (gifts that are enriching) later and will want to plan on shopping or making these to add to your Kwanzaa table. For now, concentrate on finding these items for decorating. Look for Afro-centric stores in your area or search online. You can also make items like the kinara. Finding candles and fruits and vegetables to place on your table is as simple as visiting your local grocer.

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