TEMECULA – Kwanzaa is an opportunity for families to gather and celebrate their rich cultural heritage. Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1 that was the brainchild of Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor and chairman of Black studies at California State University Long Beach in 1966. At a time when rioting was prevalent near where Karenga lived and worked, he thought a celebration to unite African Americans as a community and help them reconnect with their African heritage could benefit his community.

The name “Kwanzaa” is from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits of the harvest.” Kwanzaa pays homage to the traditional harvests that take place in Africa during December and January. Kwanzaa presents another way to reflect on the year that is drawing to a close and look forward to the months ahead. Kwanzaa also presents an opportunity to focus on family, community and traditions – which already is a hallmark of the holiday season. Individuals and families can harness the meanings behind the seven principles of Kwanzaa by incorporating various traditions into their celebrations.

“Umoja” celebrates unity by gathering together with other African Americans to discuss favorite components of African culture and history. Share important stories and traditions with younger generations.

“Kujichagulia” or optional encourages the practice of self-determination by setting goals or resolutions and seeing at least one or two through to fruition in the weeks to come.

“Ujima” or work suggests families organize a community-wide effort of some type, such as helping to fix up a neighborhood garden or raising money to support a less fortunate family, to celebrate collective work.

“Ujamaa” or socialism is the principle of cooperative economics and can be perhaps best supported by shopping locally. Local businesses owners also can support one another and cross-advertise to keep revenue in their communities.

“Nia” or interest is the idea that having a purpose in life is important and can keep goals on track. Harness this principle by figuring out a passion and sharing it with others through teaching or mentoring.

“Kuumba” or creativity can be explored through crafts, such as making a unity cup or decorating for the holidays. Listening to or playing culturally relevant songs and/or viewing artwork from Africa are just a few other ways to express personal creativity.

“Imani” or faith can be expressed by religious devotion, or through belief in one’s people, parents, teachers and leaders. Uniting people in faith can be another way for celebrants to enjoy the holiday together.

Kwanzaa is a family-oriented holiday, and it’s easy for everyone to play a role in making Kwanzaa celebrations even more meaningful.