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Kwanzaa: A New Year celebration

To enable the children to identify values that will help bring the school together during the coming year.

by Gill O'Neill

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To enable the children to identify values that will help bring the school together during the coming year.

Preparation and materials

  • Prepare seven Key Stage 2 children to sit in a circle at the front around a bowl of fruit (placed on a straw mat if one is available). You will need to explain to them about the safety aspects of holding lighted candles.
  • You will need seven tall candles and some matches.
  • Prepare seven sheets of A4 paper or card. Write the following seven principles on the cards, one on each card:
              Umoja – togetherness
              Kujichagulia – self-determination
              Ujima – sharing
              Ujamaa – family
              Nia – purpose
              Kuumba – creativity
              Imani – faith
  • You will also need a felt marker pen.
  • Note: The concepts in this assembly are difficult for Key Stage 1 children, but the symbolic and ritualistic elements will speak to many of them.
  • Background: Maulana Karenga, who created Kwanzaa, at first intended the festival to be a secular African-American alternative to Christmas. He has now withdrawn that objective. Its purpose today is to respect and honour African-American heritage and culture by celebration, meditation and study. Many Christian African-Americans celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa.
  • See for further information.


  1. The assembly starts with seven children sitting round a mat (see ‘Preparation and materials’ section).

    Explain that from 26 December to 1 January many African-American families in the United States and throughout the world celebrate the festival of Kwanzaa. Many people who are not African-American also celebrate the festival.

    Kwanzaa is a fairly new festival. It was invented in 1966 by a man called Maulana Karenaga. The festival lasts for seven days and, like many other festivals, celebrations include singing, dancing, feasting, speaking and reciting traditional stories and poems.
  2. Explain that we are thinking about this now because we are starting a new year.

    Tell the children that Kwanzaa is a Swahili word (a language spoken in parts of East Africa) that means first or first fruits. Kwanzaa originated as an African festival of harvest. However, it is now a new year rather than a harvest celebration.

    Its purpose is to celebrate the New Year and also to celebrate family life, and to think about and value African-American thinking and history and ways of doing things.
  3. For the festival, people decorate their homes with colourful cloth, and works of art. They put out a decorated mat and on this they put symbols of harvest, a flag, and a candlestick, called a kinara, which has holders for seven candles.

    On each of the seven days of the festival families meet together in their homes and share a pot of soup. A candle is lit and put on the kinara. During this meal an important principle or good quality is read out. There are seven altogether, one for each day of the festival.

    (Read out the following principles. As you describe the principle to be thought about on each day, call on one of the children to stand and hold the corresponding sheet of paper and a candle.)

    On the first day they think of Umoja, which means togetherness
    The second day Kujichagulia - self-determination (to know who they are, and speak for themselves)
    The third, Ujima – sharing (work and responsibility)
    The fourth, Ujamaa – family
    The fifth, Nia – purpose (to be a great people)
    The sixth, Kuumba – creativity (working to make the community more beautiful and helpful)
    On the last day Imani – faith (believing in their families, their people, teachers and leaders)

    The idea is that these principles will bring people together and remind them of how important they are to one another.
  4. Ask the children if they can think of any values or principles that would bring the children and adults of your school closer together. What good qualities are important in the life of your school?

    Choose seven (they may be similar to the originals) and write these on the reverse sides of the sheets of paper or card. You may need to prompt some ideas to get things going - working hard, having fun together, helping people.

    Say to the children that their suggestions are values that we should all concentrate on during the coming year.

Time for reflection

(Tell the children holding the candles and cards to stand up.)

Light each candle in turn, and as you do so read out from the card the value that the children have suggested for the school. Pause for a moment before lighting each new candle.

Lord, we are meeting together at the beginning of the New Year and a new term.
We are all full of different hopes, ambitions, worries and talents.
Each one of us is a valuable member of this school community.
During the coming year, help us to remember
what is important and of value to us in our lives,
so that we may develop in ourselves and in our school the values of Kwanzaa:
of sharing, cooperation and working together to the best of our ability.


‘Give me oil in my lamp’ (Come and Praise, 43)

Publication date: January 2012   (Vol.14 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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