Celebrating Kwanzaa with kids: Local co-chair shares her experience as a parent
Brittany Whitlow

For the last 20 years, a planning committee of Bowling Green/Warren County residents have come together to plan Kwanzaa activities, and co-chair Brittany Whitlow uses her knowledge of Kwanzaa to celebrate with her children. 

Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor at California State University, created Kwanzaa in 1966 as a way to celebrate African-American culture and heritage and bring people together. Kwanzaa, modeled after the celebration of the first harvest in Africa, uses seven principles, called Nguzo Saba, that are each celebrated on a different day from December 26 – January 1. 

Two years ago, Whitlow began celebrating Kwanzaa with her three children. 

“It is important to have knowledge and understanding that the community needs to work together and that only happens when we all connect as a race,” Whitlow said. 

She added that her family decorates the house, dresses up, and her children receive gifts each day beginning the day after Christmas.

Families determine how they choose to celebrate each of the seven principles. Gifts are generally given on the seventh day, but families may elect to give gifts daily. Each day, an individual lights one of the seven candles (called mishumaa saba) of the kinara (candleholder). Other important symbols of Kwanzaa include mazao (crops), mkeka (place mat), muhindi (ear of corn), kikombe cha umoja (unity cup), and zawadi (gift) that set out on a table for the days of Kwanzaa celebration. 

Whitlow said, “Each evening we light and recite the day’s principle. After that, they [her children] receive a gift. My oldest son likes the decor and music. My middle child loves the lighting of the candles and reciting of the principles. My youngest is only two but loves to play the djembe and open her presents. 

Whitlow recommends that families research and take time to learn about Kwanzaa, its celebrations, and what each principle means. “I recommend reading a book or two about Kwanzaa and its tradition. Yes, there are principles for each day but there is also your table that has specific symbols. There are online stores, and stores in and out of town where you can purchase the items you will need. You can also get connected with your community’s Kwanzaa event(s) and by simply talking with someone who celebrates.”

Each principle means something significant to the celebrations of Kwanzaa. The below list discusses ways for families to celebrate each principle with children. Before planning activities around any of the below ideas, take some time to learn more about the full meaning of each principle.

Umoja represents unity. Families may celebrate Umoja by planning a dinner with their children and loved ones. Families might also dance and sing together. 

Kujichagulia means self-determination. This day provides an opportunity for self-reflection. The BK Reader suggests a conversation around three questions: “Who am I? Am I really who I say I am? Am I all that I ought to be?”  These questions may result in conversations around ancestry, family, and/or their vision for the future. 

Ujima refers to collective work and responsibility. On this day, families might talk to children about some of the needs in their neighborhood with families near them or in other areas of the community. Through this discussion, families may identify a way to work together and take responsibility for helping a neighbor. This may come in the form of making home improvements for a neighbor, bringing a meal to someone, or comforting someone.

Ujamaa means cooperative economics. On this fourth day of Kwanzaa, families may talk to children about owning and supporting businesses. This day provides a great opportunity to support a business owned by African Americans and discuss African American inventions.

Nia represents purpose. Families might talk to children about how they want to contribute to the community. For example, a young person might consider their role in the family while adults consider how they may get involved in their neighborhood or local organization. 

Kuumba means creativity. Families celebrate everything from arts, music, dance, poetry. Ideas include watching creative works on television, dancing together, painting or drawing, or performing creative activities together. 

Imani refers to faith, and it is celebrated on January 1. Families may center this day around their values and spirituality. People might also plan time to reflect on their family’s traditions and beliefs. As a reminder, on this day families often exchange gifts. 

Celebrating in Bowling Green

Traditionally, the Community Kwanzaa committee hosts an annual event on one night of the seven days. “The evening is filled with the education of the holiday and entertainment, along with figures in our community discussing how we as a community can work together for its betterment,” Whitlow said. “This year, due to the pandemic, we will have videos of members from the community discussing each principle of Kwanzaa on its designated day. The committee has come together to make videos with educational information about the holiday. We have faith that next year we will be back to having our community event so we can all be together.” 

Other members of the Community Kwanzaa Committee include the following: Co-Chair Monica Hines, Paul Barnes, Peter Connolly, Erica McComas-Church, Beverly Dillard, Lacretia Dye, John Hardin, Maxine Hardin, Mechelle Jones, Ron Lewis-Treasure, Dr. Cassandra Little, Deane Olive, Marie-Louise Mallah-Mbanfu, Dr. William Mkanta, Susan Mkanta, John Musalia, Martha Musalia, Clay Smiley, Barbara Pollock, Dr. Saundra Starks, and Adria Whitlow. 

In addition to serving as the co-chair for the Bowling Green Community Kwanzaa Committee, Brittany Whitlow serves as the Choir and Assistant Band Director at Warren Central High School and President of Essence in Harmony choir. 


(2018 December 26). Celebrating the Second Day of Kwanzaa. BKReader. Retrieved from: https://www.bkreader.com/2018/12/26/celebrating-kwanzaa-kujichagulia/

(2020 December 7). Kwanzaa. History. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/kwanzaa-history